Steelseries has had their Apex keyboard design out for a while and the original design had some polarising issues with the space bar, not least because some people just couldn’t understand why it had to be double-wide. But for some people, it really worked – you didn’t have to have a set hand position over the keyboard, because pressing anywhere in the general area of where the space bar is would generally register a click. The curved key caps might also have contributed to feelings of awkwardness but that seems to be sorted for the Apex M800, Steelseries’ new version of the classic that adds in a new mechanical switch design and RGB backlighting.
While the Apex M800 was shown off to a small crowd at CES 2015, not enough noise seemed to make it to my Twitter feed, so I had no idea it existed. It has the same sloping clamshell-like design of the original Apex, but this time the keys are set into a tray that curves upwards on the side – this could either make your life hellish with dust setting into the crevices there, or it could save your bacon when you spill a drink on it.
Its no obvious from the promotional shot, but the key caps have changed, but they’re a bit weird now. The space bar has a slight curve to it on either side and a few of the key caps in the general WASD area have slopes on them to direct your fingers into the central area of the key. Logitech has this on their G910 Orion Spark, but the effect is far more aggressive there (more on that in a review coming up soon). My experience with oddly designed key caps thus far has been pretty standard – most of them aren’t made for typists. So, the M800’s target market will primarily be gamers.
The new switch design is also interesting, because it is very similar (in fact, almost too similar) to the Romer-G switches inside Logitech’s Orion Spark. These switches are made by OMRON and have the codename “QS1”. The key cap is illuminated by a single RGB LED in the center of the switch, housed in a plastic column and surrounded by a spring. Instead of using the key cap to press down on the switch head, as it is in Cherry MX designs, you instead press down on the housing for the lens that scatters the LED’s light and activates the switch. In this way, it simulates the linearity of the Cherry MX Black switch, but has an actuation force much lower, on the level of a MX Red switch.
That makes it easy and quick to make and have key presses registered, but the 25% faster actuation claim just means that the switch doesn’t have as much travel as you’re used to on other switch designs. While this is great for gamers with a need for a faster, more responsive keyboard, this doesn’t bode well for good feedback while typing.
The Steelseries Apex M800 is set to be a really interesting contender to other RGB keyboards on the market today and hopefully it’ll be on par, if not better, than the G910 Orion Spark that I recently had the pleasure of assessing. The original rubber-domed Apex and Apex RAW keyboards will continue to sell in the market, but this will be the first time the Apex brand moves into the high-end price range.
Steelseries hasn’t revealed a launch date for the Apex M800 and a price hasn’t been set as of this writing. It is still unclear if this product will make it to our shores, because I suspect, just like the Orion Spark, that these new switches are in short supply, requiring the manufacturers who use them to stagger their rollout as production ramps up.