Fans of tenkeyless keyboards may want to budget for the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL, but everyone else will likely miss the extra keys.
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL gaming keyboard review
The modern gaming keyboard separates itself from everyday keyboards on two main fronts: flash and responsiveness. RGB lighting is the norm here, and despite not offering a practical edge, it makes more sense for keyboards than headsets with lighting (you can’t see it, people!).
On the practical front, responsiveness typically refers to actuation point: the shorter, the better. For the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL, though, this takes on a new meaning because users can personalise it on a per-key basis, like the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini Wireless. Additionally, that “TKL” part of the gaming keyboard name means “tenkeyless”, so this SteelSeries keyboard is easier to transport around and takes up less desk space.
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL value for money
No matter which way you cut it, the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is expensive. Like, $395 RRP expensive. SteelSeries sent me the wired version for review, but you can expect to pay up to $589 RRP for the wireless model. Phew.
For TKL competition, the Logitech G915 TKL Lightspeed is slightly cheaper at $379, plus it’s wireless. Admittedly, that Logitech keyboard doesn’t let you customise the keystroke actuation point. If you want a cheaper TKL alternative, consider the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL, Mountain Everest Core TKL or the Logitech K855.
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL gaming
As a tenkeyless keyboard, there’s no denying that the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL excels when it comes to game performance. Given the price, this is to be expected. In terms of weight, you’re dealing with around 750g, which is very light. The removable USB-C connector makes it a keyboard you can easily take with you, plus the tenkeyless dimensions mean it takes up minimal desk space.
With default settings, the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is a speedy performer with 1.8mm actuation settings. This isn’t quite halfway between the minimum (0.2mm) and max (3.8mm), but it’s a nice middle ground that feels responsive without lending itself to accidental keystrokes. For context, my long-serving Razer Huntsman Elite V2 Optical gaming keyboard actuates at 1.3mm and my replacement Razer BlackWidow V4 Pro is 1.2mm.
The Apex Pro TKL handled every game I threw at it with ease, including Sons of the Forest and BioShock Infinite. There weren’t any double keystrokes or missed strokes, which makes it incredibly reliable.
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL everyday use
The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is a great everyday keyboard, unless you happen to use a numpad. I’m one of those numpad-using writers, and I found my right hand instinctively reaching for it instead of the row of numbers up top. If you rarely or never use a numpad, this won’t be an issue.
What’s great about the Apex Pro TKL is the ability to use user profiles to create different configurations for different purposes. So, say, you may want to have a mid-range actuation profile for regular gaming, short actuation for ultra-responsive competitive gaming, and a long actuation for everyday typing.
While there aren’t any physical macro keys, the Apex Pro TKL does have a volume dial, configurable OLED smart display and a single contextual media key. Like headphones and earbuds, a single tap of the media key pauses or plays, a double tap skips a track and a triple tap replays the song you’re on. The button can also be used for switching profiles and, combined with the wheel, on-the-fly actuation tweaks.
The real shame of this otherwise impressive package is the included wrist rest. Sure, it’s detachable, but it’s hard and uncomfortable. If you shift the weight of your wrists in particular ways, it’ll distractingly pop up and out of place. If SteelSeries releases a soft version of the wrist rest, it’s an easy upgrade. The hard-plastic wrist rest is also a smudge magnet, as is the OLED screen.
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL software and features
The complexity of companion software determines how likely people are to tap into the full potential. While it’s improved over the years, the SteelSeries Engine isn’t as clearly laid out or easy to use as alternatives from Razer and Logitech.
For starters, it took me a while to find the lighting controls: it’s not a dedicated tab under the Apex Pro TKL settings. Instead, you back out to the Engine product list and choose Prism to play with lighting. For practical tweaks, the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is separated across multiple tabs of bindings, actuation and OLED settings.
By default, you can switch the actuation for the entire keyboard or, if you’re a patient type, dig into the nitty-gritty of tweaking the actuation for specific keys (like WSAD for shooters). Ironically, there’s a section marked ‘Numpad key zone’, albeit restricted to the row of six Insert-to-Page-Down keys that aren’t typically part of the numpad. There also wasn’t a straightforward function-key option that I could find for replicating the numpad on other keys.
Is the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL gaming keyboard worth buying?
The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL isn’t built for everyday use if that extends to numpad functionality, dedicated or replicated. That means it’ll never be a replacement for a full-sized keyboard for me. That said, if you don’t need a numpad and you’re in the market for a lightweight, space-saving gaming keyboard with plenty of customisation, give the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL a crack.
How we review gaming keyboards
We review keyboards by testing them for extended periods. Where possible, with tenkeyless and full-sized keyboards, we use them as our primary keyboard during testing periods. Keyboards are appraised in terms of how seamlessly they slot into everyday life.
For gaming keyboards specifically, we test across everyday and gaming scenarios. We acknowledge that while gaming purists may be okay with switching between everyday and gaming mice, it’s more of an ask for a gamer to own multiple keyboards. Particularly for gaming keyboards, mechanical switches are evaluated in the context of the distinct sound and feel of the three broad types of keys.
Generally, keyboards are also appraised in terms of their comfort and practicality. For comfort, we take note of any keys that are difficult to reach or any soreness after extended use. An included wrist rest is a big plus on the ergonomics front. For the practical side, we factor in additional keys, including macros and media controls, then appraise things such as battery life and versatility (wired, Bluetooth and 2.4GHz) for relevant models.