The SteelSeries Apex M800 is the newest mechanical keyboard from the popular peripheral company, and acts as the introduction of their new post-Cherry switches, known as “QS1.” The Apex M800 features full RGB options with 16.8 million colors and per-key customization, so it’s significant step-up from the previous Apex keyboard, which only allowed for color customization in limited, pre-defined key groups.
The Apex M800 sports a few interesting design choices which are standard for SteelSeries keyboards, most notably the extra-large spacebar. It has an MSRP of $199, which is $30 more than RGB keyboard options from Razer and Corsair. Read on to find out how SteelSeries’ new switches feel in action and if the Apex M800 is worth the extra cost.
Features and Performance
The Apex M800 comes complete with many of the features you would expect from a high-end gaming keyboard, including a suite of marco keys on the left edge, anti-ghosting technology which can handle over 256 keypresses at once, full programmability of all keys, and multimedia controls built into the keyboard via the function keys. All of these features are well-implemented, though none of them are significantly better in practice than what you’d see on keyboards from other companies.
The keyboard also features two extra USB ports along the top edge of the board, which can be used to connect other peripherals or even flash drives. Extra USB ports in easily-accessible places are always nice, and this feature gives the Apex M800 a leg up on some other choices.
The most exciting thing about the Apex M800 is the new QS1 switch. We’ve covered the story behind these switches before, and they are an attempt by SteelSeries to produce a quality gaming-focused mechanical switch which can offer a viable alternative to Cherry switches, which are in short supply. While some gamers profess diehard allegiance to the Cherry brand, companies like SteelSeries are having to deal with a market reality and seek potential replacements.
The QS1 switches were developed in partnership with switch-maker Kailh, and they have been designed specifically to enable faster and more precise gaming input. SteelSeries claims the switches offer “25% faster actuation” than traditional mechanical switches, which has been achieved by reducing the throw distance to 3mm and the actuation point to 1.5 mm.
I’m used to taking flashy marketing claims like these with a heavy dose of skepticism, and I went hands-on with the Apex M800 expecting to notice little difference between the QS1 switches and other mechanical switch options. In practice though, that wasn’t the case. The QS1 switches do travel a noticeably shorter distance per click, and this was something that several of my coworkers noticed as well when I had them try out the keyboard without telling them what was special about it.
The QS1 switches are significantly different from any of the other options on the market. But are they better? That’s a trickier question to answer. During my first few hours with the keyboard I felt more nervous about missing keystrokes than I usually am with a new board, and I think that was a consequence of the increased actuation speed, which gave both my hands and mind slightly less time to register each click.
After a warm-up period spent typing and playing Minecraft, though, I jumped into a couple of mutliplayer Evolve matches. My worries about missing keystrokes never materialized, and I did as well as I ever do. After many hours of gaming and typing with the Apex M800 I’m not convinced it is actually making me faster on the keyboard — I suspect it may require the reflexes of an e-sport athlete to really benefit from the increased actuation speed — but the QS1 switches hold their own nicely against other Cherry and non-Cherry options. They feel fast and smooth and a little odd at first, but it’s easy to imagine loving them after a bit of practice.
The QS1 switches are also less noisy than many popular switch options, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on your personal preference. Here’s a brief video comparing the sound of the Cherry MX switches in the Corsair RGB K70 with the QS1 swithces in the SteelSeries Apex M800:
Aside from the keyboard itself, the Apex M800 comes with an extra set of rubber feet which can be used to increase the height of the keyboard, Mac replacement keys, and a SteelSeries sticker.
We’re still in the early years of full RGB keyboards, but it’s clear that SteelSeries has learned from the mistakes of companies like Corsair when it comes to the software side of things. As we’ve previously discussed in our coverage of the talented amateurs stepping up to the plate and designing eye-popping lighting profiles, many RGB keyboards are supported by software which is far too confusing for its own good, and which will present an unfortunate barrier to those looking to play around with the lighting options on their new keyboard.
The RGB customization options included in the downloadable SteelSeries Engine software are wonderfully intuitive and easy to use, and the software is significantly better than anything else available. It only took me a few minutes to understand how to get the keyboard to do just about anything I wanted.
Even better, the software includes around a dozen fun lighting profiles to get you started, and for many users the options included right out of the box will provide all the choices they’ll ever need. Cycling rainbow colors, specialized FPS and MOBA layouts, an animated pattern replicating the infamous Matrix code, and even an American flag pattern are all available without any additional work or downloads needed beyond the normal SteelSeries Engine.
The Apex M800 sports the extra-large spacebar and distinctive font which is standard for SteelSeries keyboards. I’m a big fan of the large letters on the keyboard, but I’m torn on the spacebar. It looks a bit odd to me, though it is undeniably convenient and easy to hit. Unfortunately, it’s also an enormous magnet for fingerprints, and after a few hours of use it was never without a visible smudge.
The QS1 switch allows for centered LED lights beneath the keys, rather than the off-center positioning of standard RGB switches. SteelSeries claims this allows for less bleed in the lighting around the edges of the keys, and that did appear to be true. There was notably less glow in between the keys compared to other popular RGB keyboards.
Interestingly, the keyboard also features colored lighting along the right and left edges, which isn’t something you see in other RGB keyboards. It also features a large SteelSeries wordmark in the upper-right corner with its own programmable lightning options via the software.
The Apex M800 is a bit lighter than other popular gaming keyboards. It’s heavy enough that it won’t slide around on your desk, but it doesn’t have the feeling of solid lead other options offer.
The QS1 switches manage to feel tactile without the harsh-feeling impact of many of the infamously loud mechanical switches. This somewhat softer impact makes the keyboard slightly easier on your fingertips for long-term use.
I’ve never been a fan of macro keys along the left-hand side of keyboards, as I find it causes me to occasionally misalign my hand on the board, as I’m used to using the far-left keys of a board for reference. For those who use macro keys a lot though, the left-hand placement is a standard solution to put the keys within easy reach.
According to SteelSeries, the keycaps of the Apex M800 are shaped for speed, and they feel slightly lower profile and have less distinctive edges than standard keycaps. This contributed to the aforementioned sense that I was occasionally missing keystrokes or losing my place on the board, but as previously mentioned I didn’t actually miss more keystrokes in practice once I was used to the board.
The Apex M800 also features two small bumps on the W key to help you locate it in the middle of a game. This is a very useful feature and it did its job well, but I felt that the bumps were a bit abrasive and irritating for long-term use. Others in the office who tried out the keyboard didn’t notice this as an issue though, so it likely depends on how you normally place your finger on the key.
Robust software, full customizability of lighting and keys, anti-ghosting technology, and extra USB ports add up to a nice, though not revolutionary, set of special features.
The Apex M800 looks great with the lighting on or off, and the distinctive font and extra-large spacebar make it stand out, though the style might not be for everyone.
The bumps on the W key were surprisingly annoying for me, but otherwise there was little to complain about in the comfort department. The QS1 switches felt a bit nicer to use long-term than standard switches, but there’s nothing special about the Apex M800 comfort-wise.
The QS1 switch takes some getting used to but performs very well in practice. It’s a solid Cherry alternative switch and may be exactly what some gamers have always been looking for.
Great software and distinctive new switches are the highlights of the Apex M800, though it doesn’t offer the clear superiority you might expect for $30 more than its prime competitors. If you like the sound of the QS1 switches or want to create custom lighting profiles via easy-to-use software, the Apex M800 is a nice, though pricey, choice.
For more info on the Apex M800, visit the official SteelSeries Apex M800 site.
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