SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini review: Small size, peak performance
Adjustable key switches? Hmm
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SteelSeries has gained a reputation for well-built, high-performance gaming peripherals, however, they aren’t typically known for pushing the boat out in terms of innovation.
However, this appears to have changed now, as SteelSeries has equipped the Apex 9 Mini with their very own OmniPoint Optical key switches, which might just be one of the most innovative features we’ve heard of.
These switches are unique as you can adjust the actuation point per key in 0.1mm increments, allowing for almost limitless granularity in terms of sensitivity. Perhaps this is what all the best gaming keyboards will be doing in 5 years’ time?
As impressive as this technology is, it’s got us wondering if it’s a gimmick or a genuinely game-changing innovation.
Let’s find out in our full SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini Wireless review.
SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini specs
SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini Wireless gaming keyboard
SteelSeries OmniPoint ddjustable mechanical switch
USB Type-C, 2.4GHz
What’s in the box & setup
- Apex Pro Mini Gaming Keyboard
- USB-C to USB-A Cable
- USB Type-C dongle & Type-C to Type-A adapter
- Keycap Puller
- Product Information Guide
SteelSeries has opted for a less-extensive approach to the box when compared to their previous keyboards. There are no magnetic flaps or plinths on which to display the keyboard, instead, the interior simply slides free of the slipcover.
Within the cardboard insert, you find the keyboard in a soft anti-scratch bag. The associated accessories like the dongle and keycap puller are stored in little cardboard drawer-like compartments.
The unboxing experience is pretty tidy, with everything securely stowed in its own compartment, the only downside is the lack of foam padding, meaning that the Apex Pro Mini is a little prone to damage. This is particularly worrying given the ~$240 price of the Apex Pro Mini, however, our sample arrived undamaged.
As usual, setup is a simple process requiring not but an empty USB port and the included dongle. If you’re a technologically advanced man about town with a USB type-C port on your PC, then you can use that, whereas plebs will have to use the included adapter and cable.
There is one thing to note here though, which is the Apex Pro Mini’s incessantly flashing escape key that just doesn’t stop going if you’re using it in wired mode.
So, if you have no interest in utilizing the wireless capabilities of this board, you might have to get used to it, but there might be a solution in the form of a firmware update in the future.
As usual, the SteelSeries GG software is recommended but not compulsory, as it allows you to play with the RGB and use the impressively customizable switches (more on that later).
SteelSeries has played it safe here, with a slim chassis, leaving you just the keys which is the standard 60% keyboard design, similar to what we saw in our Corsair K70 Pro Mini review and the ASUS ROG Falchion.
While we enjoy the utilitarian and minimalist design, we’ve seen a lot of them by this point, meaning that it’s also starting to feel a tad uninspired.
The legends on the pristine double-shot PBT keycaps are very nice, though, as SteelSeries has gone for a very clear font, which opposes some of the more stylized and bullish looks we’ve seen from ASUS ROG and Corsair back in the day too. Don’t think we’ve forgotten about the tramp stamp Corsair. We’ll never forget.
In terms of branding, we see ‘steelseries’ imprinted on the underside, and printed on the top edge of the keyboard, additionally, SteelSeries has replaced the regular ‘Fn’ keycap with one bearing their logo, which is a particularly skillful way of sneaking some extra marketing in there.
The RGB lighting is very impressive here, with impressively bright and vivid per-key customization. The brightness can be adjusted via the keyboard itself, but to play with the effects, you’ll need SteelSeries GG installed.
Due to the 60% nature of the keyboard, there are a lot of keyboard shortcuts necessary due to the reduced number of keys over a standard full-size keyboard.
luckily, SteelSeries has done the right thing here, side-printing the front edge with the secondary function on the relevant keys, all of which can be used by tapping the key while holding down the ‘Fn’/SteelSeries logo key.
Despite the ostensibly plastic construction, the internals of the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini clearly has something substantial going on inside, as the board has some decent heft.
There is relatively little flex here too, but small form-factor keyboards have an advantage here due to the shorter width than their full-size counterparts.
Annoyingly, despite the lack of flex, the board does produce a mildly worrying creak. It doesn’t affect the functionality or anything, but given the premium $240 price point, it’s something we shouldn’t be experiencing.
Elsewhere the board is lovely, boasting some of the nicest PBT keycaps we’ve seen included with a gaming keyboard, with translucent legends in a clear and easy-to-read font. Although weirdly, the Euro sign is just slapped on the ‘4’ key. Which looks super out of place.
Typing and gaming performance
Given the 60% form factor, this keyboard still does OK for typing, though as always the writer amongst you really should have a keyboard that’s at least TKL (Tenkeyless).
Much like other 60% keyboards for example, the Corsair K70 Pro Mini Wireless, a cluster of keys works as arrow keys when FN is held down, which can seriously help when navigating a word document.
However, SteelSeries has done this in what we’d consider the wrong way, with WASD functioning as the arrow keys. This sounds like it makes sense, but because you have to hold FN down, you need both hands to use these virtual arrow keys.
Corsair, by comparison, has made a smarter decision, using I, J, K, and L as the virtual arrow keys, meaning that you can hold FN down with the right pinky finger, and use the middle fingers of the same hand for the new arrow keys. This allows you to retain the use of your left hand, which is useful for typing, and totally invaluable if you’re a left-handed mouse user.
SteelSeries OmniPoint Optical key switches
Now we come to the fun bit, the switches. It’s particularly fun this time around as these are some pretty unique their actuation point can be adjusted, and you can set two of them.
Out of the box, the switches feel great, producing a nice sound and they feel pretty speedy too due to their light actuation force. Unfortunately due to the customizable actuation point, these switches are not available in a tactile variant, so if you like some additional feedback, these are not the switches for you.
Typing and gaming on the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini feel great for the most part, with the PBT keycaps working with the solid base, producing a firm and confident overall sensation, unfortunately, the spacebar doesn’t feel or sound nearly as good as the other keys, as it produces a more tinny, less rich noise.
The potential benefit of the dual-actuation feature is that the keys can produce a more analog experience than typical key switches are capable of doing.
For example, in most console games, pushing the analog stick forward only slightly results in a slow shuffle, a little more makes your character walk, and pushing it all the way forward produces a full sprint.
The SteelSeries OmniPoint switches can’t quite do that, but as there are two available actuation points, slightly pushing the key down could walk, and pushing it all the way could run.
We haven’t quite been able to find a configuration that makes this new system feel totally game-changing, however, there is a lot of potential for keyboards with a less-binary nature.
SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini: Final word
We had a lot of fun with the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini. It feels great to type on, and the gaming performance is beyond reproach, so if you need to make sure your keyboard isn’t a bottleneck to your gaming performance, we can’t help but recommend it.
It’s built like a tank too, with significant heft and very little flex too. and the default keycaps have that delightful PBT texture we love. For a mass-produced board, it sounds lovely too.
Our only sticking point is the shortcut for the arrow keys as it’s less than convenient. Of course, you’ll get used to it, but there are ways of doing it better. Additionally, the adjustable key switches mean that the keyboard is not hot-swappable, which is always sad to see.
The OmniPoint Optical key switches are interesting too. While we couldn’t find a practical application for them, it’s still a technology we want to see more of.
If you’re willing to spend upward of $200 on a 60% mechanical keyboard, we can’t help but recommend this, but you might want to keep another board around for when you’re not gaming.