Steelseries’ RAW lineup is what the name implies – raw performance over the bells or whistles that usual accompany gaming products. The Steelseries Apex RAW is similar, as well. But before we dive into the review, a disclaimer: I have never tried the Steelseries Apex, the older sibling of the Apex RAW, which has a bit of additional features and a slightly larger price tag. However, Steelseries is kind enough to provide this comparison chart, which make things quite clear.
Apex RAW is the streamlined version of the Apex, as you can see, it has no USBs, no media buttons, no color zones, etc. It’s simply a gaming keyboard. But how good is it?
When you take the Apex RAW out of the box, you will not be wow’ed by it. It’s not a face only a mother could love, but it’s not stylistically inclined either.
Dressed in hard plastic, and a piano black finish covering around the keys, the Apex RAW is simple looking, and with its large keys and large lettering, it looks a bit odd as well.
However, I kind of like it. The Apex RAW has an understated class about it. It has a commanding presence on the desk. And it gives off a promise of great performance, delivered without self-doubt or hesitation.
The Apex RAW is flanked left and up with 17 macro keys, all of which can be customized to your liking, be it launching an application or pulling off relentless commands in DoTA 2. There are two layers of it though, so you have a total of 34 macro keys to play with. This should satiate even the most hardcore macro user.
The Apex RAW is built well, even though the hard plastic creaks and groans if you move it a little. But how many times are you going to move it once you have set it up? Despite this, the Apex RAW feels premium and could take a round or two of pounding (lost that DoTA 2 match because of a n00b teammate, let the frustration out on the keyboard!). But I haven’t tested it’s durability, and I am sure the distributors won’t like it if I go around smashing the keyboard, but Apex RAW feels solid and great under my paws.
What I don’t like about the build is that the materials are easily smudgeable. The Apex RAW I got was a used review product and I could already see the stains left by the last user. And after using it for two weeks, I can see my imprints on the hand-rest and over the arrow keys where I usually rest my fingers. They can be cleaned but you have to be fastidious about it.
The Apex RAW is a fairly large keyboard, bigger than most in fact. If you are coming from a normal-sized keyboard, especially one without a hand-rest, you will be odd-placed using the Steelseries. It has a bit of an easing-in curve, but it’s spacious layout, roomy spacebar, and a very comfortable hand-rest will get you used to it in no time. But prepare yourself for a lot of spelling mistakes at first.
Due to its special design, the Apex RAW is completely flat, much like a laptop keyboard. As a result, the keys are hard to press and lacks any sort of cushion to make that click comfortable. That is not to say the Apex RAW is hard to type on, but it gets you tired really quick because every click requires complete effort. There is no softness of a normal membrane keyboard because of the lack of height, or the tiny travel distance of a mechanical keyboard.
Another pet peeve is the two additional arrow keys. Just why, oh why. I understand that this is helpful for arrow-players, and many will find this a welcome addition. I also understand it can help navigate better in RTS games. But I use arrow keys a lot to navigate websites or Windows Explorer and it is mind-numbingly confusing to judge which arrow I am about to use without looking down. Two weeks in and I have yet to get accustomed to it. If Steelseries must have this, a better solution would be to have an option to either remove them (I guess I could pry them off right now) or make them slightly lower profile than the rest of the arrow keys.
The focus with the Apex was to somehow shorten the time a player takes to reach the number and macro keys, and then return back to the WASD position. This is achieved by making the keyboard completely flat like a laptop’s
Does this work? Mighty well. Hitting the number keys is fantastically fast and I don’t have to reach out or raise my fingers to get to them. This may seem like a small thing but it makes a world of a difference when you are issuing commands during a heated online match.
The twelve ‘M’ macro keys, lined above the Function keys, are easy to reach as well thanks to their elevation. This helps not only to identify between the two lines of keys, but also makes it easy to remember for blind presses.
Another tiny feature that gamers will come to appreciate are the small bumps on the ‘W’ key, allowing them to return to the WASD position quickly without having to look down or fumble around blindly. We all have goofed up many a times, releasing the wrong spell or the last grenade because we mistook the ‘E’ key for the ‘W’. The tiny bump helps in that regard and let’s you know your fingers have landed in the correct place.
The Apex RAW uses the Steelseries Engine software, which is a wonderful, easy-to-use, light-on-resources companion program compared to the ones bundled with competing brands.
There aren’t a lot of options you can tinker with here (the Apex RAW doesn’t support Apex’s array of colors after all), but you can setup your macros and customize each and every key on the keyboard with the software.
The best part about the Steelseries Engine is that it doesn’t have to run in the background and hog on resources. Once you have made your preferences, simply save your profile and turn off the app.
If you want the dizzle-dazzle of a gaming product, stay clear of the Steelseries Apex RAW. The keyboard is a champion performer but it holds no frills that will make you go wow. The Apex RAW is a well built, simple looking, no nonsense gaming keyboard that will have you moving, and throwing macros at break-neck speeds without sweating it. It’s not exactly great for general typing, but if that’s not your major concern, for $69, you can’t possibly go wrong with the Apex RAW.