There are computer keyboards and then there are computer keyboards on the market and SteelSeries makes some of the very best peripherals you can put underneath your fingers. The Apex M500 mechanical keyboard is one of the contenders put forth by the gaming company but the slick hardware isn’t for everyone.
The Apex M500 is a more affordable mechanical keyboard (that’s right, the R2,000 price tag in this case counts as affordable), aimed at the sort of person who uses these things enough that they actually wear out. Have you ever worn out a computing peripheral through standard use? If so, you’re the target market for this well-engineered bit of plastic and switches. And lights. A whole lot of lights.
Though you could be forgiven for thinking that the M500 isn’t up to much, as it doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd when it’s not in use. When powered down or not connected the keyboard looks, at a glance, more like something that came out of a R199 mouse/keyboard bundle from game than a high-end piece of human-computer interface. Looking closer, the whole unit is moulded from heavy plastic that feels like it could take a team-kill inspired beating and still get you through the rest of the Team Deathmatch. There’s nothing special about the full keyboard layout (with NumPad), which looks as conventional as they come, but looks can be deceiving.
The SteelSeries Apex M500 keyboard features mechanical keys, LED backlighting, and the ability to record macros. If you don’t know what those are, you’re still allowed to play with one of these. Playing games online might result in other people stealing your lunch money, though. There are no dedicated keys for it but setting up macros is simple enough, though it will take some time spent with the M500’s software disc before you’re ready to go out an annihilate your foes online at the touch of a button.
For the uninitiated, mechanical keys are exactly what they sound like. The usual plastic membrane that makes up most keyboards (which is itself subject to varying degrees of quality) has been swapped out for mechanical switches. In this case SteelSeries have used their Cherry MX Reds, which have a 4mm travel depth and a very satisfying, if softer (compared to the Blues) ‘click’ every time a key is depressed. And you can depress them as much as you like, since each key is rated for over 50 million presses before your lifetime guarantee is up. Whether you’re typing out a novel or fragging in Overwatch, the Apex M500 feels an awful lot better than its first impression would lead you to expect. If you’re looking for a keyboard to straddle the line between hardcore gaming and everyday use then this is what you want right here.
Light Up Your Life
But it’s mostly gaming kit, right? And gaming kit wouldn’t be complete without some form of lighting and that’s also true here. The moment you connect the Apex M500’s USB connector the keyboard’s blue LED backlighting activates. Unlike more expensive models you’re stuck with the blue shade, which harks back to clear PC cases circa 2006, when blue LEDS meant that you were the coolest guy at the LAN (provided your modded machine would boot). In more practical terms, the backlighting means that you’ll be able to handle your end of a firefight in the dark without needing external lighting sources.
SteelSeries has also gone for a bit of cable management, building in a set of channels in the keyboard’s underside which will suit any arrangement. Whether you dress to the left, right, or just straight back, the M500 won’t be sitting on any inconvenient cable humps. That means you get more stability for your rapidly-stuttering fingers — always a good thing.
But at the end of the day you’re going to have to decide whether it’s worth dropping a substantial (though not crippling, if you’re a serious PC gamer) amount of cash to lay your fingertips on top of SteelSeries’ mechanical slab of plastic. It’s not going to do anything that your existing notebook keyboard, or even a stock Microsoft keyboard, doesn’t but it will feel better while it does that same-old same-old. If you’re a budding competitive gamer then you should already be entering your credit card details and shipping address but the average user…? They’re going to be a tougher sell.