If $200 seems a bit steep for SteelSeries' Pro model, the Apex 5 gaming keyboard offers a strong compromise as an alternative. You're paying much little less and dropping a few mechanical-only features, but if you can forego that extra layer of customization, you'll find an excellent set of specs on a sublime feeling set of keys here. The Apex 5 keeps everything that makes the more expensive models great - from its slimline, borderless design, to its snappy actuation response across the board. Plus, you're even keeping that handy OLED display, even if it feels like SteelSeries missed a trick with that particular section of dedicated space. With red, blue, or brown switches to choose from, as well as the option to go hybrid and shave off even more of the price, there's some wiggle room in the speed and feel of your actuation, and we took the blue hybrid switches out for a spin.
Perhaps the first feature many are going to notice about the SteelSeries Apex 5 is the small OLED display sitting in the top right corner. Great for displaying song titles or a kill count in CS:GO, this small onboard screen makes for a nice touch, if not something a little under-utilised in actual experience. That's because this is essentially a vanity display, while you can call upon preset modes and configurations and catch up on Discord messages, there are easier ways to do so without tabbing out nowadays, and drawing your eyes away from the screen to squint at a small display on your keyboard doesn't always feel spectacular. It's nice to look at, and definitely sits well as an extra feature for the rig, but in actuality, you're going to find use of this feature dwindles quickly.
Had they configured this section of the keyboard to function more like a small touch-screen version of the Elgato Stream Deck, allowing you a customizable helm of app controls, things might have been a little more useful. The volume and media controls sitting adjacent to this screen saw far more use in our time with the SteelSeries Apex 5, even if they are a little par for the course these days.
In general, though, this is a pretty nifty keyboard under the hood. With customizable per-key RGB illumination, a slimline footprint, silky smooth key caps, and cable management features built into the chassis itself, this certainly isn't your everyday keyboard.
There's no doubt about it, the Apex 5 feels like a solid piece of kit. Everything from the streamlined aluminium alloy shell to the magnetic matte wrist support has been built to last, and sits strong on any desktop. There's no space wasted here, either, with keys taking up everything in the main mounting plate and the top line taken up with extra controls and the aforementioned media functions. It all makes for an extremely efficient build, keeping the footprint light and easily moveable even on the longer full-size version we're testing.
With a floating design, RGB lighting shines through with fantastic clarity. Hues run a little colder than you'll find on competitor models, but with a brightness and vividity as well as plenty of configuration options that all together makes each keypress endlessly satisfying.
Tapping away on the version of the SteelSeries Apex 5 with blue mechanical hybrid switches feels incredibly tactile, and this isn't even the version built for full click satisfaction. Every keypress has a feather-light force requirement thanks to the keyboard's linear key build, but never feels accidental or sloppy. It's also easy to find just the right amount of resistance under each press, and with only a little practice you'll be flying across the keys with incredible speed. Not only that, but caps are soft and matte to the touch, which only adds to this feeling of lightness, speed, and precision in your typing.
All this feedback does come at a price, however, and you won't be setting this particular gaming keyboard up in the living room any time soon. With great clicks comes an increasingly pissed off flatmate, and this is no quiet setup. Sure, it feels fantastic but it's something to bear in mind if your setup sits in a shared space, you'll find yourself competing with TV volume just as much as exasperated huffs.
The Apex 5 is also, obviously, compatible with the SteelSeries Engine, and it's here that the real beauty of that RGB lighting, OLED display, and multi-media controls comes into its own. Add all that hardware to a sublime piece of customization software and your macros, onboard profiles, and key binding feel infinitely more powerful.
Overall - Should you buy?
The SteelSeries Apex 5 is a fantastic gaming keyboard, but it's not the cheapest piece of equipment you'll find. Competitors are offering similar mechanical key specs for a lower price tag in most areas of concern, though you may be sacrificing certain features to find the model that suits your needs across these different brands. The fact of the matter is, you'll find certain winning aspects of this keyboard available for less cash, but if you want all the best parts in one, complete with SteelSeries' Engine software, you'll find it right here. This is a gaming keyboard that errs on the side of premium, but it looks and feels like one as well, so if you're in the mood to splash out, there's every reason to pick one up.
If you'd like to check out the competition, here are our picks for more of the best gaming keyboards (opens in new tab). And how about increasing your aim with something from our best gaming mouse (opens in new tab) guide?