When it comes to PC peripherals, the bulk of a gamer’s budget is mostly wisely assigned to a great mouse and a fantastic headset. Most games reward consistently good aim and quick reactions to sound, above all else. A high-priced keyboard can only do so much to make you perform better in video games, which is why I’ve always recommended skimping on the keyboard costs to invest elsewhere. Thankfully, in 2020, that doesn’t have to mean settling for a terrible keyboard, as cheap and cheerful solutions do exist. Enter the SteelSeries Apex 3 and Apex 5, coming in at $50 and $100 respectively.
SteelSeries Apex 3 Review | The $50 option
Let’s begin with the SteelSeries Apex 3 review, the most budget option at $49.99 and, honestly, the keyboard I’m most interested in. You see, it’s been a long while since I used a membrane keyboard, as I’ve been spoiled with mechanical solutions for many years now. I’ve wanted to take a look at how membrane keyboards have evolved, while remaining within the “budget” category, and the Apex 3 provides the perfect opportunity.
For those 50 dollars, you get the keyboard and a soft-touch wrist rest in the box. It’s plug and play, though you can use SteelSeries’ software for further customization. There are six labeled macro buttons assigned to Ins, Home, Pg Up, Del, End, and Pg Dn, which invite personalization, and the RGB lighting has 10 customizable zones.
For the price, I think the RGB lighting is done really well. I like how the RGB surrounds the keys, leaving no gaps. The elevated position of the keycaps also makes for a floating effect, which altogether combines for a very satisfying aesthetic.
The media keys take the form of a volume scroll wheel (a personal “must-have” of mine) and a single button. This button has multiple functions depending on how many times you push it. It’s awesome to see media controls like this on a budget board.
Overall build quality is fine. There is some flex, but realistically you aren’t going to be trying to bend your keyboard in half. Though there’s no detachable cable, there is a good number of options for routing the wire to the left, middle, or right.
The typing experience is expectedly silent, but not overly mushy, which is a common criticism of membrane solutions. I think this would be perfect for a streamer who has a microphone close to the keyboard, or a late-night gamer who doesn’t want to annoy the family.
Gaming tests with the Apex 3 were mostly perfect. As mentioned in the intro, a keyboard doesn’t have to do much to satisfy in games. However, when I first started using the Apex 3, I did experience some moments where I didn’t fully depress the spacebar, meaning my character failed to jump. This seemed to come down to my muscle memory being used to typing more lightly, with the issue going away after a week of constant use for work and play.
Oh, and the SteelSeries Apex 3 is also IP32 water-resistant, which means it should survive a spilled drink.
SteelSeries Apex 5 Review | $100 gets you this
The SteelSeries Apex 5 review is next up. At $99.99, you’re paying double the price of the Apex 3, so what are the big upgrades? Well, there are a few, actually.
First, the “hybrid mechanical gaming switches.” These emulate the satisfying click of a blue switch, while still using a membrane pad for the input. This results in a mechanical-sounding switch that also feels pretty nice. I wouldn’t say it’s indistinguishable from a fully mechanical switch, but it’s certainly not mushy-feeling or anything like that. Overall, they perform perfectly in games and are very clicky (as promised).
Another big feature for the Apex 5 is the OLED Smart Display. This sits next to the volume wheel and media button. This display can be customized within the SteelSeries software to show game info, Discord messages, your favorite GIFs, and more. It’s honestly pretty cool.
RGB is also overhauled for the Apex 5. Whereas the Apex 3 uses a sort of “ambient” solution with 10 zones, the Apex 5 has per-key RGB, allowing for far more customization. While I’m a fan of the cheap and cheerful RGB implementation on the Apex 3, the Apex 5 has undoubtedly more “premium-looking” RGB.
Then there’s the build quality, which is leagues above the Apex 3. The Apex 5’s aluminum alloy frame doesn’t flex and is super sturdy.
SteelSeries Apex 3 vs. Apex 5 Review | Battle of budgets
For $50, the Apex 3 delivers a solid keyboard experience with RGB lighting that looks great. I especially like the inclusion of a volume scroll wheel and media key, even on this cheaper model. The premium-feeling wrist rest is also a nice touch.
For $50 more, however, the Apex 5 makes a great case for itself, with several premium features that could make the higher price justifiable for those with a bigger budget. The “hybrid” switches can take a bit of getting used to, but if you’re after that loud mechanical click, the Apex 5 will certainly deliver. The extra cost also gets you top-tier build quality, which should mean this keyboard lasts a long, long time.
Combined, the Apex 3 and Apex 5 keyboards make it clear that SteelSeries is continuing to improve and evolve its lineup with new features, both in terms of function and aesthetics, which will keep even the most budget-conscious gamers happy.
SteelSeries Apex 3 and 5 keyboards review units were provided by SteelSeries.
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