review

Steel Series Apex 5 Review Hybrid Keyboard With Adjustable Cable & Oled Screen

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Membrane switches use rubber domes to create the key press spring motion, while mechanical switches use a metal spring, which is more responsive and doesn't wear out as fast; hence longer keystroke lifespan. This one of the key advantages of mechanical switches versus membrane switches. The clicky noise and tactile bump of mechanical switches is another reason for their appeal, although not all mechanical keyboards have a clicky, tactile feel. This includes keyboards such as the APEX M500, which has linear actuation red switches. 
Some mechanical keyboards use a brown switch type, which also has a tactile bump but make no clicky noise. Other keyboards such as the Steel Series Apex 5 use a hybrid type of mechanical switch that uses metal spring loaded blue switches so, you get a genuine sounding mechanical switch, unlike a rubber dome based hybrid keyboard. 
The rubber domes in membrane keyboards have a lower keystroke lifespan, are less responsive and the keycaps aren't as easy to customize; whereas the keycaps of mechanical keyboards come off easily so, you can replace them with aftermarket keycaps. 
Being a blue switch keyboard, the Steel Series Apex 5 hybrid switches have a clicky actuation at 2mm while the entire keycap bottoms out at 4mm. Being a hybrid though, the Steel Series Apex 5 is not a standard blue switch mechanical keyboard. This is because the Apex 5 uses a membrane film printed circuit rather than a traditional gold plated circuit, which offers more tactile feedback; hence the Apex 5 key switch actuation isn't quite as fast. 
If ultra competitive gaming is your thing, you should go with laser-based actuation, which currently provides the fastest actuation of any keyboard. That said, if you plan to also do non-gaming tasks, the Steel Series Apex 5 is the better option plus, the Apex 5 doesn't suffer from high debounce time like regular mechanical switches do because of the membrane. 
The second key attribute of the Steel Series Apex 5 keyboard is a nifty cabling management system to manage the power cable, which is naturally built-in under the left side of keyboard. The cable does not protrude out of the front side like with most keyboards and, thanks to the cabling management system, you can position the power cable on the centre, left or right side of the keyboard to suit your desktop setup. The cabling management system consists of a deep and long groove with notches designed to route and tuck the cable neatly within. 
The Apex 5 cable is made of a flexible rubber sheath and terminates in a USB-A connector with a hard plastic plug that has the Steel Series logo branded on it. The length of the Apex 5 cable is 1.6 meters long but it decreases in length when routed. When routed through the centre or left side, the cable length decreases down to 1.5 meters long. When routed through the right side, the cable length decreases down to 1.3 meters long. If you don't want to have the cable routed inside the groove, you actually can as long as you use the retractable feet.
The bottom of the Apex 5 keyboard is made of hard plastic and features squarish indents, which allows air to freely circulate under the keyboard. Because the cable is routed inside the groove, you can have the bottom of the keyboard sit flush against the desk without the cable getting in the way. The retractable feet provide adequate elevation and they are rubberized all around. Even when retracted, the feet are able to provide a grippy contact surface to prevent the keyboard from sliding on the desk.
The oled screen is another key feature of the Apex 5 that makes the keyboard stand out since most keyboards don't have one. Some keyboards that have a display use a color LCD screen that is able to display videos. The Apex 5 LCD screen is programmable but, it's a dot matrix screen capable of only displaying black/white color. The screen supports images and animated gifs and can display other data like game stats. The screen is approximately 6cm long, 2cm wide so, it discreetly hides in plain sight. This same type of oled screen can be found also on the Rival 700 gaming mouse.
Like most RGB keyboards, the Apex 5 comes with a companion desktop software, called Steel Series Engine, which is the same software used for other Steel Series peripherals. The Engine Software lets you change the RGB color light, pattern and effect of all keys or individual keys so, you can have the keyboard look anywhere you like. 
You can customize the color, pattern effects and key bindings of all the keys, including modifier keys and Enter key. The only button you cannot customize is the mute key, which is located next to the volume wheel. The volume wheel uses a scroll-wheel type potentiometer and, it's made of aluminium with a grippy textured finish.
The Steel Series Engine software is also needed to customize the onboard profiles and to assign a new macro to one of the Meta Binding keys on the keyboard, for instance, M1 (Meta + Ins). That said, you can record macros on the fly without the software by using the following sequence on the keyboard. 1) Hold the SteelSeries logo key + F7 key for 2 seconds, 2) Press any keys to record your macro, 3) Press F7 key and 4) Press any key to assign the macro. 
A few other things you can do directly from the Apex 5 keyboard include manually adjusting the brightness of the RGB illumination, using the SteelSeries logo key + F8 or F9 keys. You can also toggle between profiles by using the SteelSeries logo key + F6. Another neat thing about the Engine software, it's that you can create a new configuration for the keyboard without having to modify any of the five on-board profiles. You can also disable/enable the Windows key, as well as change RGB effects by using the SteelSeries logo key + Insert, Delete, Home, End, Print Screen, Scroll Lock.
The length of the Steel Series Apex 5 is 44.5cm long, 14cm wide, 2.5cm high and, it weighs 923 grams. With the wrist-pad attached, the depth of the Apex 5 keyboard increases to 21cm, which is worth noting if you have a small desk. The Apex 5 wrist pad measures 44.4cm long, 8cm wide, 2cm high and, it weighs 192 grams. The Apex 5 wrist pad has a beveled perimeter with a soft matte rubbery finish on top and hard plastic base with rubber feet. 
Compatibility-wise, the Steel Series Apex 5 works with Windows computers, Mac computers, as well as Xbox One and PS4 consoles, although it's worth noting that not all Xbox games support keyboard input. The Engine software is supported also by Windows computers (Win 7/ Win 10) and Mac computers (OSX 10.8 - 10.12) and takes up only 120 MB of space. You can plug the Apex 5 into a USB 2.0 port or USB 3.0 port.
The Apex 5 top plate is made of aluminium alloy; hence the aluminum has been mixed with other metals (i.e. copper, magnesium, zinc) to make it stronger. In fact, aluminium alloy is harder than pure aluminum, which on a keyboard application works well because it makes the frame of the Apex 5 stiffer with virtually no keyboard flex. You can buy the Steel Series Apex 5 on amazon. Check out the review of the Sensei Ten mouse and Rival 650 mouse.

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