SteelSeries Apex 5 Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Review

Photo taken by the author.

If you’re a gamer who wants all the premium bonus features of the SteelSeries Apex Pro or Apex 7 keyboards, but without the “pesky” magnetic or mechanical switches that make the performance of those higher end models so special, then this is the product for you!

The trouble is, I’m not sure that customer exists.

For years, budget gaming keyboards came in only one variety: membrane. Rubber dome models offer a solid blend of affordability and durability, and more and more of them now integrate the RGB and control features that a gamer might want.

However, the last few years have also seen the rise of a different middle ground between cheaper membrane models and costlier mechanical switches. More and more manufacturers are now getting in on the game of trying to split the difference between these keyboard technologies. The first keyboard of this sort that I tried years ago was the Razer Ornata, which was essentially a membrane keyboard with some clicky metal bits hidden in the switches.

It worked well enough (read my now-cringe review here), but in the four years since then “Fake” mechanical technology has vastly improved. Enter the Apex 5. Its “hybrid mechanical” switches use the top half of a mechanical switch combined with a non-mechanical actuation mechanism inside the base of the keyboard. They feel great, but SteelSeries packed this supposedly cheaper model with so many extra bonuses that it may have priced itself right out of the market.

Note: I bought this keyboard myself at retail. I don’t make any money or receive any incentives if you decide to buy one. I don’t use affiliate links in any of my stories. For more information about my reviews policy, please click here.

Photo taken by the author.

The SteelSeries Apex 5 sells for a standard retail price of $99 dollars (official site here). It has the aluminum frame, OLED screen, flat wrist rest, and lame ABS key caps from their more expensive Apex Pro keyboard. It doesn’t have the USB passthrough or fancy magnetic switches, instead opting for blue clicky hybrid switches.

These switches really do feel like standard blue switches. They have a smooth travel to them, a prominent click right at the actuation point, and a soft-feeling bottom- out point. The only thing that separates them from a standard mechanical switch is that the mechanical bits that usually send a signal to the computer are missing, replaced with a soft sheet of material that mushes down to actuate the signal instead. Eighty percent of the switch is mechanical though, and it gives these the perfect feel. I was hard-pressed to tell much of a difference against the real mechanical switches I have on hand.

The matte wrist rest collects dust instantly. Photo taken by the author.

While this approach of using most of a mechanical switch helps the feel, it also cuts down the cost — and the durability. The switches in the Apex 5 are only rated for 20 million keystrokes. That’s still great for a gaming keyboard in a vacuum, but bad compared to the 50–100 million presses that many other models achieve.

The extras package is nice. Maybe too nice. The OLED screen has a simple menu that controls all the functions of the keyboard, meaning that you don’t have to install the SteelSeries software to adjust things like the RGB lighting. The OLED itself is a bit dimmer than the one on the Apex Pro TKL I reviewed recently, though still plenty usable. I’m guessing they bin their lower quality screens for these cheaper keyboards. The RGB lighting is also excellent, with a bright look that is again just a little dimmer than the lighting on the Apex Pro. But you wouldn’t know that unless you saw them side by side.

While it’s great to have the solid aluminum frame, OLED controls, and vivid lighting on this keyboard, it also means that any cost savings from the cheaper switches is eaten away. The $99 price of this keyboard puts it up against countless other models with real mechanical switches in them. The Roccat Pyro, Corsair K65 Mini, and HyperX Alloy Origins Core I reviewed this year all go for the same price and have better everything except for the OLED screen. And there are numerous other easily-findable models with real mechanical switches in them from popular companies for around $100. Or less if you go the OEM route online.

The lighting is vivid and the keys are convincing, but you can easily do better. Photo taken by the author.

Maybe if SteelSeries included one other perk for the price, like the increasingly-common PBT key caps, then they could get away with this price point. But in spite of the impressive mechanical feel…this is essentially a membrane model at its core that has been dressed up and doubled in price. I don’t know why you’d be interested in the extras package here but not be interested in a true mechanical switch. It’s cool technology in that it fools my brain into thinking that I’m using a true mechanical actuation, but I don’t see any reason to recommend this over other models that give you increased durability and the reliable quality of mechanical parts.

I don’t understand why this keyboard exists. If it were twenty or thirty dollars cheaper then it would be an amazing budget choice, but for most folks that are willing to spend this much, they’d probably rather have true mechanical switches than an OLED screen and the Apex aesthetic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Apex 5 other than it being a bad deal compared to what you can get from every other company.

Photo taken by the author.

The Apex 5 only seems like a good value when compared against the rest of the SteelSeries full size keyboard lineup. You might look at that page and go “hey, it’s like an Apex 7 but with cheaper switches that still feel good and for $60 less!” And that’s true! But again, you can do so much better for $100. I can only recommend this if you’re a weird enthusiast like me who wants to feel just how good a fake mechanical switch can now perform in the modern era. We’ve come a long way from the days of a membrane key with a clicky metal thing inside. The hybrid tech here feels indistinguishable from the real thing, even if its performance on the backend is nowhere near as durable. But that’s not at all worth paying for when you could just get the real mechanical experience for the same price by taking one step to the left or right.

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