SteelSeries Apex 3 Review – Whisper-Quietly Confident
Earlier this year when the lockdowns started thanks to a certain infectious virus circulating the globe, I reviewed a few SteelSeries products. The first, a mouse, was the Rival 3, a budget gaming mouse that is more than worth the cost. The second, a keyboard, was the Apex 5, a hybrid keyboard that, again, was more than worth the cost of entry. The Apex 5 also surprised me with hybrid keys that felt great to use. A good number of months later we're going to be looking at another keyboard. This is the Rival 3 of the Apex series, this is the SteelSeries Apex 3.
I can't honestly remember the last time I used a full-on membrane keyboard. Well, with the Apex 5 I was using a membrane actuated keyboard, but the hybrid between membrane actuation with the clicky, springy action of mechanical-style keys. With the SteelSeries Apex 3, you have an undeniably affordable keyboard, coming in at an RRP of £59.99 or $49.99. The question is, even at a lower price, is it worth the outlay?
Much like the Rival 3 mouse, SteelSeries looks to quash any notions that a (relatively) cheap product is one that is poorly made, not really suitable for the task it's designed for and any other general thought that pops into your head. Does the Apex 3 succeed in this? Well, that's always a bit of a mixed answer. If it's suitable for the average gamer, those not wanting the quickest and most responsive keys and those not looking to hear the clatter of a great mechanical keyboard.
So, as should be clear from two paragraphs ago, this is a membrane keyboard. With this comes a quiet keyboard, but one that may not be the quickest and most responsive. Now, SteelSeries hasn't slouched here. First, using the keyboard lives up to the whisper-quiet moniker given to it. How is this managed? Through a rubber dome which cushions the key. Will these keys last for the 20 million keypresses? I can't honestly say, not until I get a super-fast drinking bird toy.
On the topic of super-fast, the Apex 3 isn't that. Once you've got used to mechanical keyboards, it's hard to make that transition back, even if only temporarily. So, I had a little issue in that the keys felt a little mushy and a little slow in bouncing back, the former almost certainly a result of the rubber domes to keep the keyboard quiet. This doesn't really matter unless you're spamming a single key and even with the slightly slower return, it's negligible.
You won't suddenly find yourself unable to survive on Super Meat Boy, missing your jumps on Mirror's Edge or failing to mash your punches and kicks on Street Fighter. If anything, it's those who use the keyboard for a lot of typing that will notice the difference. Most of all, they'll notice the feel of the keys going in. It's not a deal-breaker in any sense of the word for such a low-priced keyboard with the features it has - more on those - but it's still something that you'll notice.
While the SteelSeries Apex 3 isn't the fastest keyboard around, it is durable. I can't attest to the proclaimed 20 million key stroke durability, but they feel sturdy. Indeed, the whole keyboard feels sturdy even though it's very light. Adding to this has an IP32 water resistance rating. I've tested this in the same way I've tested the water-resistance of a few keyboards in the past, I've accidentally knocked over a glass of water onto it. This hasn't impacted its functionality but even with keyboards without a touted water resistance, I can't remember having issues after spilling something on them.
In keeping with durability, I want to mention the cable. It's a little issue, but the more I use non-braided cables, the more I dislike them. They're too easy to kink, to tangle and, simply, to damage. Would braided cables increase the cost that much? I don't know, but I still wish SteelSeries would move to braided cables. One thing that is good in regard to the cable is the groove on the keyboard, helping a lot with cable management and positioning.
Much like the Apex 5, this is far from the smallest of keyboards. Not only is it a full-sized keyboard, it's also quite tall. Even with the sturdy legs, the angle for your wrist would be punishing. Introducing the wrist rest. This is identical to the one found within the Apex 5 and still not one I'm enthralled with. I find it quite uncomfortable, though it does enough to reduce the angle of your wrists, alleviating the problems that would cause. It's also a genuinely nice and unusual thing to have in such a low-priced keyboard.
I would normally wonder why a keyboard had keys that are so high, but I already know why with the Apex 3. Why is this? Well, it's the RGB lighting of course. The keys being reasonably set off from the base allows for full showing of the 10-zone RGB illumination, fully customisable using the SteelSeries Engine software. Now, there is an issue with such a space beneath the keys, and that's simply that it's more space for dust and dirt to get under.
I could write about the software and how it links with the keyboard, but you honestly should read my review of the Apex 5 since I won't be saying anything different. Simply put, it's very customisable, offers a number of features and effects that link in with particular games and apps, making it look and feel a bit more premium than the price implies.
Other little features the SteelSeries Apex 3 comes with is a dedicated multimedia button, as well as an audio wheel. The multimedia button play, pause, skip forwards or skip backwards, all with specific presses of that singular button. The roller isn't as versatile, letting you somehow control the cooling of a nearby nuclear reactor, but it does the job of controlling your volume or muting.
For many of the same reasons I praised the Apex 5, I find myself praising the Apex 3. Certain things, like the RGB, are more limited and you are trading in aspects like the keys and actuation for the lower price, but that is the key aspect - the lower price. There's little doubt that for the budget-oriented gamer, this is going to be great to pick up. Hell, it's not even a bad keyboard to have as a backup to your clicky mechanical keyboard, particularly for night-time usage.
Sample provided by SteelSeries for review purposes.
Products mentioned in this post
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The SteelSeries Apex 3 is a great entry to the budget market by the company, but "budget" is the key thing to remember here. It's cheap coming in at just £59.99/$49.99, and you get a host of good features for that price, including RGB, water resistance, whisper-quiet key tech, but you also get trade-offs in the fact that this is a membrane keyboard. The keys can take a little getting used to, giving a bit of a soft feeling, but this doesn't take away from the overall strength of the keyboard. Is it perfect? Not at all, but it's one that's ideal for specific situations such as those on a budget and those wanting a durable keyboard, one with a bit of style, that will also keep the noise to a minimum.
- Very affordable and a great value for money
- User-friendly, versatile and easy to set up software that allows for great board customisation
- The "whisper-quiet" moniker is met, this being a perfect keyboard for night-time use
- Good RGB lighting for such a cheap keyboard
- Feels durable, is water-resistant and generally looks good.
- The pressing of a key can leave an unsatisfying mushy feeling.
- It's uncomfortable to use without the included wrist-rest, but that's not the most comfortable rest around.
- The large gap between the keys and the base does make the keyboard 'too tall' and allows for the accumulation of dirt under the keys.