SteelSeries Apex M800 Gaming Keyboard review

What we think

When you pay more, you get more. The Apex M800 is an expensive keyboard, but with it comes a host of amazing, good looking, and useful features. Perfect for a serious gamer who wants to go all in on their gaming set up.

Design

With the M800, SteelSeries have foregone the aggressive, angular look that a lot of gaming keyboards are designed with. A simple rectangle, the M800 is weighty and solidly built, letting you know that it is high quality, just from lifting it.

Overall, the keyboard is 510 x 175 x 40mm, and altogether weighs 1.4kg. It has 6 macro keys, keys bound to multimedia functions, and a two metre braided cable, which is more than enough length to reach my computer tower, is tough, and doesn’t knot.

The keys are made out of a smooth plastic, which is pleasant to the touch, and the body of the keyboard is a matte black. Neither seem to easily pick up fingerprints or dirt. The space bar is much bigger than on a conventional keyboard, a big block button. The big size makes it easy to press with either thumb at any time; you are not likely to miss it.

The keyboard is, like all premium keyboards, a mechanical one. Rather than the more common Cherry MX switch, however, the Apex M800 makes use of a brand new key mechanism, the QS1. This switch claims to be 25% faster than the main industry standard, and has a smaller actuation point (at just 1.5mm). It is also a generally smaller switch, being just 3mm in depth, compared to the Cherry MX Red which is 4mm.

But how does this all work in-game? Well when gaming, response times are just perceptibly improved, I feel like I can react quicker to on screen events, something I wasn’t really expecting to notice, but it is just a small improvement. However, for a gaming keyboard, I was surprised that the WASD keys are somewhat awkward and close for my big fingers. The W is too far above the A for my liking, a fact that I was really disappointed about, as it makes holding that position for a long time quite awkward and uncomfortable. Having said that, it is pretty much my only disappointment with the keyboard.

The Apex M800 is definitely a gaming, not a typing, keyboard. While typing is responsive and can feel good, over a long piece of writing, the typos will stack up. I had an annoying habit of hitting the Caps Lock button instead of the A key.

It is also not silent keyboard, with the QS1 Switches having a good tap to them. If this is something you like in a keyboard, then great (personally, I love a mechanical keyboard which sounds mechanical). When I was using it in the office, a colleague commented that it sounded a bit like tap dancing on my desk, so you may want to consider your environment before using it.

    Pros

  • Highly customisable LEDs
  • Zero ghosting
  • Programmable macros
  • Game-responsive lighting

    Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Awkward WASD placement
  • Requires two USB ports

    Rating

  • Performance:5 out of 5 stars
  • Features:5 out of 5 stars
  • Design: 4 out of 5 stars
  • Value:4 out of 5 stars
Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Illumination and GameSense

Just because it is a conventionally shaped keyboard, it does not mean that it isn’t visibly impressive or flashy. The conservative keys and body of the keyboard house a series of LEDs which light up each individual key when plugged in. This in itself is nothing majorly noteworthy; lots of keyboards have back lighting, and quite a few have different colours. However, the M800 takes it a step (well, many steps) further using the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. Each individual key (except the extra large spacebar which has no illumination) can be bound to not only to one of 16.8 million different colours, but to a different individual colour shift pattern.
The logo sits on the upper right of the keyboard, and follows the LED settings, just as all the keys do.

Furthermore, sleek designing of the sides of the keyboard, with inlaid translucent plastic, allows the LED light to leak out, and adds and extra sense of quality, even if it isn’t visible from a typing position.

The software comes with a series of presets, but it is a massively customisable piece of kit, and you can set up your own wavering colour schemes, or reactive key presses.

Making use of hexcodes and colour palettes to set the colour, the keyboard can be set to have any colour light up anywhere on it, or to group different keys together in a constantly shifting myriad pattern. The result is an impressively high tech looking keyboard.

However, it also has practical applications. As the M800 was designed specifically for gaming, SteelSeries Engine 3.4.0 and up can be used to allocate certain programs and lighting to different keys.

Using the ‘GameSense’ setting of the SteelSeries Engine, players of Counter Strike, Minecraft or Dota 2 can set certain banks of LEDs to represent in-game data. Health, breath, direction, tool durability, ammo, armour and more can all be represented on the keyboard, at your fingertips. Whether game settings are available for individual games are up to the developers, but the number of games available are increasing.

(The GameSense settings are not limited to the M800 keyboard, and works with other SteelSeries peripherals, such as the Siberia V3 Prism Headphones. However, GameSense “really shines with our Apex M800 Keyboard”, SteelSeries announced in a press release.)

Software

When plugging in the keyboard, you get a notification inviting you to download the software necessary to change the settings of the keyboard. Otherwise, you can easily make your way to steelseries.com/downloads to get the Engine 3 (or whatever the latest update is).

When opened, the software automatically picks up any SteelSeries devices you have plugged in. It stacks them under a “My Gear” tab. You can click on each individual device and access the settings for each.

The colour scheme of the program is a nice charcoal, grey and black, which leaves the icons, pictures, buttons and menu clear and easy to use. The scheme matches the materials generally used on the company’s devices, and on their website, showing a nice theme across the franchise.

The settings are easy to use, and for the Apex M800, is based around an interactive image of the keyboard. You can select each key, either individually, or in a group, then select the style of lighting you want to apply to the key (or set of keys). You can then set the colour, shift pattern, origin point, and wavelength, or reactive colours (so the colour changes on key press).

apex m800 from Steelseries apex m800 from Steelseries

Features

As well as the QS1 keys, the keyboard has some other high end features. Namely, the complete anti-ghosting. Some keyboards have some anti-ghosting technology, which helps to stop keystrokes being missed because multiple keys were pressed at once.
The Apex M800 has complete anti-ghosting, which means that all keys can be pressed at once and the keyboard will recognise all of them. I can press both my hands across the keyboard, and all the keys will appear on screen, which is strangely satisfying.

The keyboard itself has multiple CPUs which mean it can keep up with all the keystrokes, while simultaneously handling the lighting effects.

The Apex M800, does, unfortunately, require two USB ports to run. The braided cord splits towards the end into two USB plugs, both of which must be inserted into your computer. However, this is not a major problem. On the back of the keyboard itself are two USB slots, which can be used as simply as any USB port on your computer.
The underside centre panel is recessed slightly into the body of the keyboard. This means that wires can easily be laid beneath the keyboard, if needed, without it causing the keyboard to rock.

The rubber feet work well to stop sliding, and they are replaceable. In the box with the device comes two more feet that are taller, and so once traded over, give the keyboard a more severe slant, which some people prefer. It is nice to have a choice, and the method (different rubber feet) is much more robust than the plastic hinged stands that a lot of keyboards come with.

From the SteelSeries Engine, you can access some arcade games to play on the keyboard itself. These are fairly gimmicky, and totally unnecessary, but it is a fun little extra feature which amused me for a few minutes. You can play Snake or Minesweeper on the keyboard, both of which are made harder to play by the fact keyboard keys are not set out in a perfect grid. Still, a fun little time waster which is a nice addition.

Conclusion

The SteelSeries Apex M800 is a really impressive piece of kit. For those who are very serious about gaming, or those who play professionally, it will be a great addition to your set up, especially if people often watch you play. However, for me, the WASD keys are a bit awkwardly positioned for a gaming specific keyboard. I’d have hoped they’d be a bit more ergonomic.

However, the QS1 switches are impressive and give a really nice feel to the keyboard, with an increased accuracy and reduced actuation point which make a difference in-game. However, they are not that great for typing, especially over a long period of time, or for a piece of extended writing (like this review).

The illumination is really what I love about the keyboard. It goes above and beyond the illumination styles of any other keyboard I’ve encountered, and it is quite simply, very pretty and very fun. The only downside is that it might distract you in-game!

If you have £150 to burn, and are a dedicated gamer, this is an amazing buy.

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