SteelSeries Apex 9 Optical gaming keyboard review: All play, no work

Apex 9 TKL feature imageDexerto

The SteelSeries Apex 9 is the company’s first-ever gaming keyboard with hot-swap optical switches, but do they really make a difference?

Mechanical Keyboards have taken over the PC gaming community over the past decade, with a wide variety of switches available to suit your specific interests.

However, there’s a new contender in town — optical switches. Offering a faster, more responsive switch they’re slowly making their way into more and more gamers’ keyboards, we’ve already tested them in the astonishing Wooting 60HE, and the likes of the Razer Deathstalker V2 Pro.

SteelSeries is here to help that with the Apex 9, available in 60% ‘Mini’ and Tenkeyless ‘TKL sizes that are decked out in their custom Optipoint switches.

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At a competitive $129 for the Mini and $139 for the TKL, are SteelSeries’ latest offerings worth the purchase?

Key Specs

  • Switch Type: SteelSeries Linear OptiPoint Optical
  • Keycaps: Doubleshot PBT
  • Connectivity: Wired USB-C
  • Form Factor: TKL and 60%
  • Lighting: RGB, customizable through SteelSeries GG
  • Features: Two actuation points (1mm and 1.5mm), 0.2ms response time, Hot Swap, Multi-height adjustment, detachable USB cable,
  • Price: $129.99 (Mini) $139.99 (TKL)
  • Where to buy: Apex 9 TKL on Amazon, Apex 9 Mini on Amazon

Included in the box: Apex 9, USB-C cable, Quick Start Guide

Design

Apex 9 TKL full picDexerto
The Apex 9 TKL swaps the iconic OLED screen for SteelSeries branding.

Right out of the box, you’ll see that SteelSeries decided to go with an all-black style for the Apex 9, unlike the black/gray Apex Pro. The company decided to ditch the OLED screen but kept the scroll wheel and media button which are two design choices that we’re excited to see from the company.

After measuring the Doubleshot PBT keycaps, we found that they’re roughly 1mm in thickness, which is definitely thinner than we’d like to see in a premium keyboard like the Apex 9. Thinner keycaps generally lead to quicker wear and tear as you use the board, and for a gaming-focused keyboard like this, it’s going to be used a lot. Luckily, the PBT materials will help to mitigate some of that.

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They do have an absolutely wonderful texture, however, so they’re definitely not the worst we’ve ever used. The keycaps shine through, which means SteelSeries’ high-quality RGB lighting gets to show off its colors.

The switches on the Apex 9 are hot-swappable with other optical switches, which is a very welcome feature in just about any keyboard nowadays. SteelSeries plans on offering Tactile and Clicky versions of their OptiPoint switches in the near future, but for now, the only option available from SteelSeries are linear switches.

Even with its aluminum top plate, the Apex 9 is rather lightweight thanks to its plastic body. However, we would have happily welcomed a heavier keyboard in lieu of the plastic as we’ve found it to be rather creaky on the TKL, although the mini doesn’t have the same issue.

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Both sizes of the Apex 9 come with tri-level height adjustment and a keycap puller that’s hidden behind a rubber flap on the back of the keyboard. Neither sizes come equipped with a wrist rest, but given that it’s a gaming-focused board, it makes sense.

Setup and Features

As the SteelSeries Apex 9 is just a USB-C wired keyboard, setting it up is as natural as ever. Plug the detachable cable into the keyboard and the back of your PC, and it’s good to go.

The keyboard does have the ability to adjust RGB brightness through a function layer, although you’ll have to jump into SteelSeries GG to customize key bindings and all the lighting options past that.

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SteelSeries GG does what it needs to do rather well without making anything extremely confusing for the end user and we love it for that. However, The Apex 9 experience still needs a bit of fine-tuning as it, for some reason, requires the use of two windows.

After clicking on the Apex 9 listing in the list of connected devices, it opens a window showing key binding options as well as a “settings” menu to switch between Typing and Gaming mode.

SteelSeries GG Apex 9SteelSeries
SteelSeries GG opens a new window to change key bindings and typing mode but sends you back to another window for RGB customization.

Instead of offering illumination options inside of the key binding window, the app sends you back to the original GG window which is kind of a weird setup, to say the least.

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Typing experience

One of the downfalls of optical switches having a faster response time compared to mechanical, even SteelSeries’ very own Omnipoint switches used in the Apex Pro, is that they deliver a very mediocre typing experience.

The company has tried to mitigate that by offering two actuation modes, 1mm for Gaming and 1.5mm for typing, that are easily changeable through a keyboard shortcut.

However, we’ve consistently found ourselves fumbling our words while typing, with the Apex 9 wanting to respond faster than our fingers can move. Needless to say, this isn’t a keyboard we can recommend to anyone that plans on typing more than a few tweets a day.

Is it good for gaming?

Apex 9 mini with optipoint linearsDexerto

When it comes to gaming, the custom SteelSeries OptiPoint optical switches absolutely shine. The fast response time gave us some of the best gaming experiences we’ve had in over a decade.

It absolutely shines in FPS games and battle royales like Warzone and Fortnite, where how fast you move can make or break it.

While the Apex 9 doesn’t offer a great full-time typing experience, the switches allow for quick and easy chat communication inside of your favorite game. Although, don’t be surprised if a few of your messages are riddled with errors in the process.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking for a dedicated gaming keyboard, the Apex 9 is a solid purchase.

However, if you’re looking for a keyboard to help start your career in journalism, write your next book, or for general school use — we recommend you check out one of SteelSeries’ other options.

6/10

While we’ve found the SteelSeries Apex 9 to have a mediocre build quality on the TKL and a poor typing experience, SteelSeries has proven that they are experts at improving their products with future redesigns.

There’s no doubt in our mind that we’ll see the majority of our issues with the keyboard fixed with the next revision.

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