• SteelSeries Apex Pro

  • How We Tested

  • What You Should Know About Gaming Keyboards

  • How to Choose a Gaming Keyboard

  • Other Gaming Keyboards We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

SteelSeries Apex Pro
Credit: Reviewed.com/Simon Hill

The SteelSeries Apex Pro is a feature-packed, mechanical, gaming keyboard that's a joy to use.

Best Overall
SteelSeries Apex Pro

Even though the SteelSeries Apex Pro is a full-sized keyboard with a number pad, it doesn’t take up too much room on the desktop (there is also a tenkeyless version, though). The build quality is top class, with a matte black aluminum board, and an incredibly comfortable, soft-touch wrist rest that connects magnetically. There’s a small OLED at the top right, along with a clickable roller and a large key that serve as dedicated media controls. You can make the OLED display your gamer tag or even a GIF animation, but it also offers some welcome feedback on your chosen settings and profiles, so you don’t need to tab out of your game to tweak things.

The headline feature here comes courtesy of the Omnipoint switches. Not only does SteelSeries claim that they’re much more responsive and durable than conventional mechanical keyboard switches, they also offer customizable actuation. This means you can configure your preferred sensitivity level, dictating whether you’d like the lightest of touches to register or a deeper press. It doesn’t change the feel of typing on the keyboard (which is excellent by the way) but it does change when the key press registers.

Since you can set sensitivity per individual key, it allows you to dampen certain keys you find yourself accidentally pressing, but leave WASD super sensitive, for example. Take the time to set up different profiles for work and play, and even for individual games and you will feel the benefit. I found accurate typing a breeze on this keyboard and it’s relatively quiet for a mechanical board.

The SteelSeries Apex Pro features bright RGB lighting which is also fully configurable on a per key basis. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software is fairly easy to get to grips with. You can set main and meta key bindings, use a macro editor, tweak the actuation, set up lighting effects and colors, and even load a custom image or GIF for the OLED screen. There’s room for five onboard profiles.

With cable routing left, middle, or right, and a pass-through USB with its own lit-up port on the left, the SteelSeries Apex Pro embodies thoughtful design. Gaming and general typing on this keyboard is an absolute pleasure and nothing offers deeper customization, but the price makes it a serious investment.

Pros

  • Beautiful design

  • Customizable key actuation

  • Per-key RGB lighting

Cons

  • Expensive

How We Tested

The Tester

I am Simon Hill and I have more than a decade of experience reviewing all sorts of consumer technology. Before I was a writer, I worked as a game designer for many years and had a serious first-person shooter habit. I work on a computer all day and often play games long into the night, so a good gaming keyboard is essential to me.

The Tests

Every gaming keyboard we tested was used for at least three days. We worked through a normal day with each keyboard, typing, researching, and running through typical administrative tasks. At night, each keyboard was put through its paces in marathon gaming sessions with a range of different titles, including first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and more sedate management sims.

What You Should Know About Gaming Keyboards

How to Choose a Gaming Keyboard

  • Wired vs. Wireless: Most gaming keyboards are wired, but you can find the odd wireless option. You may prefer a wireless keyboard if you’re not gaming at a desk or you travel often, but battery life will be a problem if you like backlighting. Many wired keyboards are also portable, just look for removable cables to make it easier to pack up. Some gaming keyboards also offer cable routing that can help them fit in with your desktop.

  • The feel: It's best to use a keyboard to get an idea of the feel and decide whether you like it. Think about the feel of the keys, the sound it makes, the spacing, the extras, and the wrist rest. A quality board is likely to be with you for years so you want something that feels right for you.

  • Extra keys: You can remap all the keys on a gaming keyboard to suit you and even create profiles for different games. Some gaming keyboards include programmable buttons for shortcuts or for macros, which chain together a series of actions. You may also find special media keys and a volume roller or knob useful.

  • Customizable lighting: RGB lighting is an expectation in a gaming keyboard. Manufacturers provide software that will include preset lighting effects, and most enable you to craft your own. The level of customization varies, with some offering per-key lighting and complex layered effects. Simple backlighting is a bare minimum, allowing you to play in the dark.

  • Portability: The size and weight will factor if portability is a concern for you. Tenkeyless boards drop the number pad and there are gaming keyboards that scale back even further, but be aware that you’ll need to use combinations to access some functions. Another thing to look for if you want to take your gaming keyboard on the road is the ability to store profiles in its memory.

  • Wrist rest: Support and comfort can be enhanced by the right wrist rest. The best gaming keyboards have removable wrist rests that attach magnetically. Consider how it will feel in the long term and how it will age.

Terms You Should Know

  • Mechanical switches: With a mechanical keyboard each key is a spring-loaded switch. They tend to be reliable and durable, but they can also be quite loud to type on. There are many different types of mechanical switches, sometimes you’ll get a choice of switches for the same keyboard. Different switches will have a different feel and require different amounts of force or travel. You can usually switch the keycaps and customize more elements of a mechanical keyboard.

  • Membrane switches: Employing a simpler construction that relies on a membrane layer on top of a printed circuit board, these rubber-dome switches are much cheaper than their mechanical counterparts. They tend to offer less tactile feedback and have a shorter lifespan than mechanical switches, but they are much quieter and cheaper.

  • Key caps: These are the plastic covers that go over the top of the switches. You often have a choice of different keycaps with mechanical keyboards, often made of PVC or ABS. While PVC wears relatively quickly, ABS keycaps are more durable and resistant to oils and smears.

  • N-key rollover: Key rollover and "anti-ghosting" refers to how many keys you can press at once before the keystrokes stop registering. If you have N-Key rollover, every keystroke is guaranteed to register and that’s ideally what you want from a gaming keyboard.

  • RGB: This stands for Red Blue Green and means you can change the color of the lights on your gaming keyboard. Most gaming keyboards have some RGB lighting, but the available lighting effects differ from device to device and brand to brand. At the top end you can customize lighting on a per-key basis.

  • Polling rate: This refers to how often your keyboard is checking for key presses and reporting back to your computer and is measured in Hertz (Hz). A polling rate of 1,000 Hz indicates that your keyboard is checking for keystrokes 1,000 times per second.

  • USB pass-through: Some gaming keyboards include a USB port that you can use to plug in a mouse, receiver, or another USB device.


Other Gaming Keyboards We Tested

Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO

Featuring a simply stunning design with excellent build quality and some of the brightest LED lighting we’ve seen, the Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO is an impressive mechanical gaming keyboard. Short key caps float above the anodized aluminum plate, exposing the switches beneath. Roccat’s “Titan” switches offer plenty of travel, don’t require much force, and feel very satisfying to press; we didn't have a single key-press failure in our time with the Roccat Vulcan. This is a keyboard that’s easy to type on at speed, reliable for frenetic gaming sessions, and relatively quiet.

The Vulcan 120 AIMO is a full keyboard with a number pad, so it’s quite big. There’s a detachable magnetic wrist rest that slots onto the bottom, and it’s the only minor disappointment, as it’s not the most comfortable. The braided cable is permanently attached to the back. Roccat also offers media controls and there’s a dial at the top right that can be used to adjust volume or brightness. Each key is illuminated individually, and you have a wide choice of lighting effects.

Roccat’s Swarm software enables you to remap keys, set up profiles for different games, and use macros, though sadly there’s no MacOS support. Swarm is also where you select lighting effects or create your own, and there’s even an option to add sound feedback to the keys if you decide that they’re too quiet. The Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO is a significant investment, but worth it if you crave a solid mechanical gaming keyboard that will light up your desktop in more ways than one. It’s often on sale, as well, which makes it even more tempting.

Pros

  • Aluminum board looks great

  • Bright lighting

  • Dedicated media keys

Cons

  • Hard wrist rest

  • No USB pass-through

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Logitech G Pro

The Logitech Pro boasts a combination of reliable performance, compact size, and simple, robust features. The "tenkeyless" Logitech Pro ditches the number pad found on the right-hand side of most keyboards in favor of a more compact design. While this makes it slightly less ideal for general/office use, it makes it easier to center equidistantly under each hand, which is better for typing and certain game layouts. You're getting fewer keys here compared to most gaming keyboards out there, but you're also essentially paying for sheer performance rather than a potentially extraneous set of keys.

It may seem odd that the smaller Pro fetches a higher price than some of the much larger—and perhaps flashier—keyboards on the list, but you're not just paying for portability here. The satisfyingly clicky keys boast reliable, quick travel, and the symmetrical/center-based layout lends typing a sturdiness that first-time users should find very appealing. The Logitech Pro is great for general typing, and its minimalist design won't offend aesthetic sensibilities if you're looking for form as well as function.

Finally, it's a great choice for gamers on the go. The detachable cable and compact design make it easy to pack away and take on the road.

Pros

  • Compact design

  • Sturdy construction

Cons

  • No number pad

Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2

A standout member of Razer's LED-happy "CHROMA" brand, the BlackWidow is expensive for a reason. Not only is Razer a leader in gaming peripherals of all types, but the company also wields the advantage of branding/manufacturing proprietary keys (or "mechanical switches") for its keyboards. This means the BlackWidow Chroma is available with either "tactile and clicky," "tactile and silent," or "linear and silent" keys depending on the customization you favor. The company also claims that, regardless of which mechanical switch you go with, you'll get 30 million more keystrokes out of them than the standard switch.

A big part of the test process for each gaming keyboard (and the sister gaming mouse roundup) involved playing games, one of which was StarCraft. The game presents an excellent opportunity to test out features related to micro/macro management and unit directive skills. The BlackWidow excelled in this area, partially due to the sheer size/key quality of the keyboard, but also due to the unique elements present in the "CHROMA" line. Among the staggering amount of LED backlight customization options here, there's even specific settings for different games—FPS, RTS, MMO, MOBA, and StarCraft, specifically.

The latter setting automatically highlights the relevant keys to help players maximize their APM (actions per minute), which is an economical measurement (in mid- to late-game) for ensuring you aren't wasting time or resources.

But that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Where features go, the BlackWidow packs pretty much everything and the kitchen sink into its hardware and software. A handsome braided cable, multi-bracket positioning feet, five extra macro keys along the left side, USB pass-through functionality, and even audio out/microphone jacks are included for the staunchest power users. The V2 also includes a very comfortable wrist-rest, which smartly magnetizes to the bottom of the keyboard, making it very easy to attach and remove on the fly. While there is evidence that these kinds of wrist rests are not actually good for preventing wrist fatigue or carpal tunnel, we're not complaining about its inclusion.

The BlackWidow is a serious product, but it's also a great performer, and has a huge array of special features and extras that should please gamers of all stripes. That said, if you don't need the whole kit and caboodle, there are much cheaper options that might suit your needs.

Pros

  • Customizable lighting

  • Pleny of programmable keys

Cons

  • Expensive

Razer Ornata V2

If you crave the feel of a mechanical keyboard, but can live without the clackety clack of the keys (not to mention the premium price), the Razer Ornata V2 occupies the strange middle ground you seek. Razer has employed mecha-membrane switches for keys that have a satisfying click and yet manage to remain relatively quiet. The Ornata V2 is completely free of the mushy feel typically associated with membrane keys, but it’s not going to satisfy real mechanical keyboard devotees.

There are other reasons to consider this gaming keyboard, including a full set of customizable media controls with a clickable roller at the top right, and support for Chrome RGB, which offers a bewildering array of lighting options. It also boasts a supremely soft, padded, leatherette wrist rest that attaches to the bottom edge of the keyboard magnetically. On the underside, there are channels to guide the braided cable left, middle, or right to keep that desktop as tidy as possible.

Like Razer’s other peripherals, customization options are handled through the accessible Synapse software, which allows you to rebind keys and set up macros, though the latest version doesn’t support macOS.

Delving deeper into the lighting options can get complicated, especially if you want to create your own scenes, but it’s an impressively versatile system. At $99.99, the Razer Ornata V2 is not much cheaper than a proper mechanical keyboard, which raises the issue of who it’s for. We enjoyed it, both for work and gaming, and found it easy to type quickly and accurately on and those around us enjoyed the break from the loudly clacking keys.

Pros

  • Customizable lighting

  • Comfy wrist rest

  • Cable channels

Cons

  • Can't match mechanical keys

  • Limited MacOS support

Razer Huntsman Mini

If portability is a major concern for you, but you don’t want to compromise on quality, the Razer Huntsman Mini is certain to appeal. This is a 60% gaming keyboard and easily the most compact keyboard we’ve ever used. There are 61 keys in total, so what you’re missing is the number pad, the function row, the cursor arrows and delete. It’s so compact that you can easily angle it on your desktop for maximum comfort or stow it away in a backpack. The USB-C cable can be detached and there’s onboard memory for up to five keyboard profiles.

This keyboard is very satisfying to type on with great feedback and minimal force required. There’s actually a choice of Razer’s clicky purple optical switches, or the linear red optical switches, which require even less force and dampen the sound for a quieter experience, but cost $10 more. If you’re using this keyboard with other people around, it’s probably worth shelling out the extra $10. It’s an exceptionally durable feeling keyboard with an aluminum case and tough PBT keycaps that won’t wear or get shiny with secondary inputs printed on the edges.

Whether you’ll miss the keys that aren’t here depends on how you use your keyboard, but you’ll certainly have to get used to shortcuts. We found the lack of arrow keys irritating, though you can press and hold the function key to get the same functions (and others), with available shortcut keys lighting up white. Speaking of lighting, it can be configured, along with everything else via Razer’s Synapse software. The Razer Huntsman Mini costs $119.99 with the clicky purple switches, or $129.99 with the linear red switches. If you crave a compact mechanical keyboard, I don’t think you can do better.

Pros

  • Customizable lighting

  • Very portable

Cons

  • Limited keys

  • Limited MacOS support

Logitech G413 Carbon

Logitech's G413 is highly affordable, but don't let its price dissuade you. The G413 still wields Romer-G keys, a sturdy design, and gives ample real estate that's good for both gaming and typing. Our one pet peeve with the G413—which is available in either silver or carbon finishes—is the spring sound.

While all mechanical keyboards use springs to provide quick, clicky travel, the G413's spring-return noise (a high-pitched metallic ring) is extremely audible, to the point of distraction. While this isn't likely to be a problem if you're playing with headphones, or a game that's particularly loud/busy, it can be irritating for other use cases. This could be a fault of the Romer-G keys, or simply the G413's design.

However, outside of that nitpick, this is a good choice for the asking price. It shaves off extraneous features and a bit of build quality to undercut the competition, but if you want entry-level, we recommend it.

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Sturdy design

  • Plenty of space

Cons

  • Extra-loud key return noise

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
Simon Hill

Simon Hill

Contributor

@IamSimonHill

Simon Hill is a freelance technology journalist with a decade of writing experience covering everything from smartphones to smart home gadgets. For the last few years, he served as Associate Editor at Digital Trends where he wrote features, reviews, analysis, how-tos, and more.

See all of Simon Hill's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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