SteelSeries Apex M800 Keyboard Review
Put on your party clothes because the SteelSeries Apex M800 is being reviewed by pcG. The Apex M800 is not a keyboard to be taken to any old party though, this one is undeniably designed for the Gaming type of shindig. The M800 from SteelSeries arrived at pcG with some excitement, mainly about who was going to review it, we all like flashy lights here so you can imagine what it was like, being the strongest person here (ahem! ED: Yeah right!) I got the opportunity and was relishing the idea of seeing how this keyboard performed.
The SteelSeries Apex M800 is a highly customisable fully illuminated ergonomic gaming keyboard. The Apex M800 boasts that it is the World’s Fastest Mechanical Keyboard by utilising the newly-designed QS1 mechanical switch which claims to be 25% faster than the industry standard. The Apex M800 also claims to have Endless Customisation when using the SteelSeries Engine software suite, macro recording, profile switching and illumination. What’s that you say ‘Illumination’, yes I did say that because that is the part that I am most excited about (along with the key switches of course). Every key on the Apex M800 can be customised with a choice of 16.8 million different colours. You can choose from preset lighting effects or even create your own, also, assigning lighting for different profiles or games. So let’s see if the Apex M800 really does reach those highest parts…
The Apex M800 came to pcG in a modest sized box, the quality of the cardboard and the printing on the packaging already gives you a sense of quality. The front of the box has a large image of the SteelSeries Apex M800 on it and there is a small section cutout on the left exposing the macros keys with the invite “Go ahead, touch awesome” (their words not mine). 🙂
The back of the box features a smaller image of the Apex M800 with indicators pointing out that the keyboard has the following features:
SteelSeries has also gone to the trouble of making sure you know that the Apex M800 is the world’s fastest mechanical keyboard, has endless customisation and individual key RGB illumination (in three languages). There are some small diagrams showing the different examples of illumination for FPS, MMO and MOBA profiles. Lastly, SteelSeries have included a diagram showing you the parts of their QS1 switch and a little chart comparing this new switch to a standard switch.
The sides of the Apex M800 box don’t have any additional information, they are instead reserved for more smaller images of the Apex M800 and a very glossy SteelSeries printed logo in orange.
When you open the Apex M800 box you are greeted with the sight of the SteelSeries keyboard in all its glory, there is no foam bag or plastic wrapping. The Apex M800 sits in a perfectly molded black plastic blister with two foam blocks attached to the lid protecting and keeping the keyboard safe from movement.
Lifting the keyboard reveals the other contents of the Apex M800 box, here we have the quick start (couple of diagrams) guide, two higher rubber feet, SteelSeries stickers, Mac Keycaps and a space for the USB cable. All the contents have a moulded contour to sit in and you can see that a lot of love has gone into the packaging of the Apex M800. 🙂
At the time of writing the SteelSeries Apex M800 is retailing for £150 on Amazon and comes with a 2 year warranty.
courtesy of SteelSeries
Dimensions & Weight
My expectations of the SteelSeries Apex M800 were very high and I was relieved to find that the keyboard looked as good on my desk as it did in the box. The Apex M800 is not the smallest or lightest of keyboards (1.4 kg), the Roccat Ryos MK Glow was only slightly heavier (1.6 kg) but that did have a massive ergonomic wrist rest. The Apex M800 is pretty long and this is not necessarily due the the fact that the keyboard is well spaced out but the fact that the edge of the keyboard is about 20 mm.
The Apex M800 feels solid enough to the touch, the plastic might feel a little bit flimsy on the edges but this is due to the design more than the materials. SteelSeries wanted to go that extra mile with the illumination and this meant instead of having solid plastic covered sides the edges come out and stop, this then gives way to the inlaid illumination which we will talk more about later. A lot of the surface area of the keyboard is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, not so much the case area but the keys themselves and the glorious massive space bar.
The Apex M800’s layout is pretty formula, on the left are the 6 Macro keys, function keys running along the top and the number pad/arrows over on the right side. Apart from the SteelSeries key (more on that later) we do have an extra special feature here and it is something you’ll find on all keyboards, looking at the photos I am sure you can tell what it is… that’s right the big space bar! The massive space bar on the Apex M800 is a welcome addition to my gaming, now nearly all of my thumb can be used to press it no matter what angle my hand is at. The space bar is five keys in length and two keys in width, okay you want numbers, here you go… (95 mm × 35 mm), 🙂 ahhh! what numbers. Apart from keys, space bars and fingerprints there is also a SteelSeries logo in the top right hand corner, and I know we are not talking about illumination yet but I will tell you, yes, it does light up!
The underside of the Apex M800 features four chunky rubber feet of which two can be removed (there is a small paragraph about this in a moment). Most of the underside is finished in a matte style plastic and the middle is of a super not of this world shiny plastic that enables you to check your gaming face without a trip to the bathroom mirror. The nice part about the underside is that SteelSeries have inlaid the shiny area for a cable/wire management sort of scenario, you can run cables underneath the keyboard from the two USB sockets, there is even a little plastic leg raising the front a little. Also found on the underside is product number, serial and rating sticker.
At the back we have two standard USB sockets and along with the previously mentioned contoured cable management the whole area is well designed. Also, we have the 2 metre braided cable between the two USB sockets, the cable thickness is a dream and I say this because I own a Mionix Zibal 60 which incidentally I love, but the braided cable on it could tow a truck full of unwanted Xbox Ones. 🙂
The sides of the Apex M800 are beautifully designed with the keyboard area forming a crushed C shape and another part of matte black plastic floating in the middle of what will be illuminated. It is all very sleek and aerodynamic with a good tiered level of keys flowing downwards at a perfect angle.
I like a lot of height on a keyboard so I was pleased to see that the Apex M800 came with the option of two higher back feet. You can see from the two photos above the difference the extra rubber feet make to not only the height but the angle at which the keyboard sits, for me there was no hesitation in swapping them as I love a higher angled gaming surface. These can be changed super easily and unlike keyboards with plastic legs these were made of rubber so there is no chance that they will break, snap off or hinge backwards. 🙂
I was very taken by the SteelSeries Apex M800, yes it’s a bit heavy, but how many times are you going to pick it up, it’s long maybe but I still had plenty of room on my desk when it was there. These little things might crop up when people talk about the Apex M800 but really they are quite rightly only “little things!” and little things don’t seem to matter when the bigger picture looks and feels this good. The height and angle with the extra feet was perfect for me and the extra wide space bar is something now that I don’t think I can live without. I was originally going to pick a fault in the Apex M800 when I fist saw it because it did not have an ergonomic wrist rest (something I might expect at this price), but after setting it up and getting a feel for it I do not think it needs one. 🙂
The SteelSeries Apex M800 was tested on our Test Rig, a fresh installation of Windows 7 Ultimate N 64bit (service pack 1) was performed prior to testing. When you connect the Apex M800 you are given the option of installing the software automatically, once this has finished you are asked to take out disconnect and reconnect to finish the process. Now you are able to go into the software and customise the keys and illumination.
The following games were used during testing:
The backlighting for the Apex M800 is one of its strong selling points and you will be glad to know that it does not disappoint. Technically you have a choice of 16.8 million colours to play with and configure your keyboard in any way which you see fit (please see the software section for how this is done). The Apex M800 has a choice of 18 preset templates which include an American flag, rainbow, matrix style Wabash & Lake to my personal favorite Time Warp which has a radiating white light effect starting in the middle of the keyboard and working its way out. You would not want anything too crazy when you were playing games though as it may (will) distract you, so I found it best to opt for the template FPS which suited me well during Battlefield 4 and Witcher 3. The illumination is bright enough and can be changed from nothing through eight steps to its brightest, this is done by pressing the SteelSeries (FN) key and using F5 or F6 to decrease or increase levels. The space bar does not does not have any illumination sadly 🙁 this may be due to the fact that it has a different switch layout due to its size, I guess we can’t have it all.
There are two other areas of illumination on the Apex M800, the first being the logo and the second the sides of the keyboard. The SteelSeries logo not only lights up beautifully but it also acts in unison with the rest of the keyboards lighting. Whatever colour or template you choose will also affect the SteelSeries logo which I found to be a nice touch. This can also be said for the sides of the the Apex M800 which follow whatever lighting you have chosen, you do have to move the keyboard or physically look at the sides because the LED’s are set a good 5 mm inside, but it does give a good effect though. There is a cool-down key illumination feature on the Apex M800 also which not only gives a nice effect but may be helpful if you need to time out moves in Game. Also, the function key has a SteelSeries logo printed on it and when pressed it only lights up the Windows key, Brightness, media, volume (F5 – F12 keys) and logo.
Overall the illumination and backlighting on the Apex M800 is one of the best I have encountered. Multiple templates, endless configuration, perfect levels of brightness and the fact that the logo and sides also get to join the party. 🙂
So as you can imagine at pcG we have experienced many different types of keyswitches, Cherry MX of various colours, Romer-G and Razer, so you could guess the excitement of getting our fingertips onto some new ones. The QS1 switch is a new switch type and is born from the collaboration of SteelSeries and Kailh for the Apex M800. The QS1 is a very short switch at only 3 mm compared to the 4 mm switch of Cherry MX Red, the actuation (45cN) point of the Apex M800 switches is only 1.5 mm, so you can see we are not exaggerating when we say short. The QS1 switch gives the Apex M800 a stealthy feel as it makes it a very quiet keyboard, there is no audible click when pressed and no feeling of a bump point.
The Apex M800 is a zero ghosting keyboard so you could press all of the keys at the same time and never have to worry about missing a command. The keyboard has two processors to cope with all the Rollover and illumination, there is an 8-bit MCU which handles the inputs and a 32-bit ARM MO to handle the illumination, this as SteelSeries states ensures that there’s no Lag when things get hectic.
The ergonimic design of the Apex M800 is designed at a low angle with minimal finger travel distance, this is great for speedy gaming but not so good when it come to typing. This may be a problem for those out there that want to use their keyboard for typing and work but the Apex M800 is advertised as a Gaming keyboard and not a typing keyboard so you get what you asked for. I did find that after some time I reprogrammed my fingers and got used to typing with the Apex M800 so there is hope after all. 🙂
All in all I was pleased with what the Apex M800 brought to my gaming, the response time in Battlefield 4 was fantastic and the same was to be said for other games. When I was surrounded by multiple Ghouls in Witcher 3 the Apex M800 matched my gameplay with movement and sword swinging speed that I had not encountered before, did it make me a better player? I certainly felt so. One issue I did have with the Apex M800 at the beginning though was that the “i” stuck a bit whenever I pressed it, I was about to send the keyboard back for a replacement but in end the situation worked itself out and it was not an issue any more, maybe I was so used to bashing on my Cherry MX Black switches that it did not like my first touch. 🙂
I have always been a fan of Cherry MX switches and have always favoured the dark side of black with its strong spring and fast rebound. My first proper gaming keyboard used Cherry MX black switches and I guess I always had a soft spot in my heart for them, since then I have tried other switches but still reverted to my high actuation ones. I can now see what I have been missing since using the Apex M800, maybe I just needed the right keyboard to steer me in the right direction. Gone are the days of wearing out my finger muscles, gone are the days of not hearing my friend over the headset because my keys were too noisy. I have seen the light and that light came from the Apex M800, there is nothing wrong with the high actuation switches but now I have reached a low, a good low with a short actuation force, it’s going to be hard for me to ever go back. 🙂
The Apex M800 software is automatically downloaded after connecting the keyboard with SteelSeries Engine 3 Ver: 3.4.0, this Driver was used throughout testing.
The first software screen you are presented with is “My Gear”, I only had one choice here which was the Apex M800 as this was the only SteelSeries product I was using. The other option from this page is “Library” which takes you to an area where you can add your games holding the configurations you have set for them. I assume that if you had more SteelSeries products then the first area in this piece of software could be quite useful.
The next screen in the software has two options which are Key Bindings and Illumination, both have a large image of the Apex M800 with the options next to it. From this screen you can also toggle the live preview for the illumination on or off or select a different language. From the Key Bindings screen you can press Launch Macro which will take you a screen giving you the choice of setting up a keypress Macro or a text Macro, the text Macro enables you to paste text or script into a game for console commands or chat. The Keypress Macro option will take you to the next step of recording.
Once you are in the Macro Editor simply press record and then assign any keystroke from the Apex M800 or button press from your mouse until you are finished. Then you have the option of editing the time between commands by right clicking on them and manually changing them, after this you can assign a name to your new Macro or Macros. Back at the Key Bindings you can then assign your Macro to any key on the Apex M800 and a tag will appear over that key showing the name of the Macro that has been configured onto it.
The Illumination software is very straightforward and has preset templates on the right of the image and custom options on the left. The preset templates can be viewed before clicking “Use” and assigning that pattern to your keyboard. It is in this section that you can also find the templates for FPS, MMO and MOBA saving you time and energy by doing all the illumination for you on the types of game genres.
The custom settings area has all the tools and colour palettes needed to customise your Apex M800 to whatever lighting design you would like. You can change the lighting for any key individually, in blocks or as a whole, also, you can assign breathing or cool down for separate keys as well. I have come across many 16.8 million colour palettes before on keyboards and mice but none so user friendly or as accurate as on the Apex M800. I found that I could achieve the colours I was looking for and that they were accurately represented by the keyboards LED’s. You can see that I have had a little play around and wrote pcG on the keyboard in the photo below, I am sure with more time and more late nights you could achieve some incredible bespoke patterns on your Apex M800. 🙂
Overall the software for the Apex M800 was easy to use and had everything you need to fine tune your keyboard with multiple Macros and fantastic lighting. I had many hours of fun going through all the lighting templates and creating my own lighting patterns and colours. SteelSeries have really nailed it with the illumination on the Apex M800 and it certainly bodes well for the future to see what they come up with next…
After spending some time with the SteelSeries Apex M800 it’s going to take something special to get my mind off of it. It’s going to cost you a bit more than the usual, but it’s worth if for those super fast QS1 switches and the highly customisable beautiful lighting. You certainly would not want to start writing a novel on the Apex M800 but you wont be able to stop gaming…
The Apex M800 arrived at pcG in a strong well designed box which had great design (much like the keyboard). Everything you needed was inside such as the keyboard itself, Mac keys, higher rubber feet, quick start guide and even stickers. The packaging inside the box reflected the love that has gone into the Apex M800 with its perfectly moulded plastic designed to house each component inside. First impressions of the Apex M800 are that it is a bit heavy and slightly long but once you set it down on your desk and start using it all this seems to pale into insignificance.
I have always been a Cherry MX switch man and for some reason always seemed to be using the switches of the black variety, this was never a problem as I am quite bashful 🙂 (when it comes to typing that is). But, since using the SteelSeries Apex M800 I have fallen in love with the super fast QS1 switches, they were made for N-key rollover and speedy gaming that’s for sure. I felt my reactions in Battlefield 4 and Witcher 3 were elevated when using the Apex M800 and that has to go down to the switches, ergonomic keyboard design and the love of using this keyboard in itself. How could I ever go back to a standard shaped space bar after this?
The illumination of the Apex M800 is obviously one of the key selling points for SteelSeries and they’ve got it right! Great preset templates, wonderfully customisable, perfect brightness levels and topped off with an illuminating logo and keyboard sides. I had so much fun playing with the illumination, whether it was the mesmerising patterns that were already created or being pleased with how accurate the colours from the palette were represented. I did say that I wished the space bar had some sort of illumination and I am sure if SteelSeries could have made this possible then they would have, so I am willing to let it go, everything else is that good after all.
The software for the Apex M800 does not disappoint either, it is easy to navigate, has plenty of options and does everything you need. Setting up a Macro and assigning it a key has never been easier in my opinion, the Editor screen is very clear and you feel you have been using it for ages even after only a couple of times. The same goes for the illumination software, play as much as you want and see what you can create or just sit back and marvel and the beautiful patterns created for you in the preset templates. I found that when I was going through the different options in the illumination software it was like playing a piano made of lights instead of music. 🙂
If your not planning on writing a novel and you want to spend that bit extra for gaming perfection then the SteelSeries Apex M800 is the keyboard for you. Amazing illumination, super fast switches, USB ports, sleek ergonomic design and the fact that you have a peripheral in front of you that makes you want to play games more than you ever did before!
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Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing this sample for review