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Monday, May 27, 2024

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL Review

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The SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL is a moderately stripped-down keyboard at a decent price. It comes in two sizes, a 60% and a Tenkeyless variety, and features hot-swappable switches and a two-point actuation you can cycle between. But the highlight feature of the keyboard is just how shallow its short actuation is. In just 1mm for gaming mode (or 1.5mm for typing), you can activate any key, which makes for an absolutely primo FPS experience and a rather subpar typing experience.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL – Photos

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL – Design and Features

The Apex 9 features a streamlined (if a bit uninspired) design. It’s all black, with an aluminum top plate (SteelSeries notes this is “identical to metal in combat jets.”), and black double-shot PBT keycaps. Both boards feature individually backlit keys that can be customized through SteelSeries software and help zhush up the otherwise unassuming looks.

While I spent most of my time with the TKL version, the mini feels very deliberately designed, with cleverly designed keycaps that show each key’s secondary function on the outer casing. This made it easy to remember which keys modified keycap brightness, turned up the volume, or deployed my macros.

The Apex 9 features Steeleries’ proprietary OptiPoint switches (though unlike the magnetic OmniPoint on the Apex Pro, these are optical switches). The Apex 9 is also the first in the lineup to feature hot-swappable switches, which can be switched out for any single-pin optical switch.

Build quality is very solid, and keys don’t feel wobbly or shaky. Keys are quickly and easily programmable. Beneath both boards, you’ll find a small hideaway compartment that stores the keycap puller. On the underside, you’ll also find its rubber feet which let you change between three height variations: flat, half, and full extension. Full extension is much too angled for my liking, but both flat and half were comfortable.

The TKL sports a clickable volume wheel, media switcher button, and a set of full-sized arrow keys. Both versions of the Apex 9 are only available in wired versions, and utilize a firm, detachable USB Type-C braided cable.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL – Gaming Performance

After testing the Apex 9, I found myself wondering how small is too small of an actuation point. The number of typos I experienced on the Apex 9 TKL seems to suggest that it’s right around 1.5mm. While gaming mode and typing mode are easy to shift between, I found both just a bit too touchy for their respective functions.

While the gaming actuation was generally fantastic for FPSs, there were entire genres of games that felt rather held back by the actuation. For instance, it was beyond detrimental for RTSs. I accidentally registered dozens of build actions while resting my fingers on the keys, and this also happened often enough in MOBAs as well. Whenever I found myself deeply entrenched in a game, my heavy fingers risked ripping me right back out.

The 1.5mm typing mode was a bit better for games with bigger commitments from your keypresses, and I had much less trouble while gaming in typing mode. Typing, however, was pleasant if still a bit too touchy for my liking. In writing this review, I’ve made dozens of typos I wouldn’t have on another keyboard: mostly rogue “a”s that were activated while I reached with my index finger.

I’ve also mostly been able to offset the typing issues by being mindful of the actuation, but it’s definitely not ideal. It made me yearn for the Apex Pro’s OmniPoint 2.0 switches, which allow you to customize the actuation to your liking. But the Apex 9 can only switch between the two actuations and can’t rebind the volume wheel or media button (which defaults to play/pause).

Fortunately, the SteelSeries software can still do a whole lot more. You can rebind every key and change between a huge variety of color effects. You can cycle between 10 animations and presets, adjust which direction the colors animate from, even alter the “size” and speed of your animations. But best of all, you can custom-tailor the RGB of each individual key, which allows you to really make something that feels like you.

You can quickly record macros with the SteelSeries + f10, then quickly type your keys and move on. And all these customizations can be stored in one of 5 custom profiles in its on-board memory.

Verdict

While I did eventually learn to use the Apex 9’s hyper-sensitive actuation, I never grew to enjoy it. While it worked flawlessly for WASD-centric movement, it was less helpful in RTS games and MOBAs. Still, at $139.99 and $129.99, the boards cost $50 less than their Pro counterparts and boast a fantastic build quality. But when you factor in the features present in other models that are missing from the Apex 9 – the OLED smart display, customizable actuation, and included wrist rest – that $50 starts to feel pretty substantial.

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