SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL Wireless Gaming Keyboard Review

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SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL Wireless Gaming Keyboard
Company: SteelSeries
Type: Wireless Gaming Keyboard
MSRP: $329.99
CGM Editors Choice

Hot on the heels of the Apex 9 Mini, SteelSeries has launched the long-awaited follow-up to it’s 2019 Edition Apex Pro TKL Mechanical Keyboard, appropriately named the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL (2023 Edition). Unlike its predecessor, the new Apex Pro TKL actually comes in two flavours this time around, a traditional wired-only version and brand-new, dual-wireless model that supports the Danish manufacturer’s patented 2.4GHz Quantum 2.0 protocol as well as the Bluetooth 5.0 standard.  The following review is for the wireless version, which for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to going forward as the Apex Pro TKL Wireless. 

Fully committed to providing the internal space required to add a rechargeable battery without drastically altering SteelSeries’ now well-established TKL form-factor, the Apex Pro TKL Wireless discards the thick, heavy wire and three-way underside cable routing of its predecessor for a much lighter and detachable braided USB-C to USB-A cable that elegantly plugs into the top of the keyboard on the upper left side.  

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This unfortunately means that the convenient USB pass-through that the old-style cabling enabled on earlier models like the Apex Pro and original Apex Pro TKL is off the table here, and that the handy, built-in keycap puller compartment found on the underside of several recent SteelSeries keyboards is also absent. But on the flipside, the newer cable can easily be replaced if damaged or lost, and the positioning of one’s keyboard won’t be weighed down or hindered by an unwieldy and inflexible cable should one choose to keep the Apex Pro TKL Wireless “wired” at all times. 

At 960 grams (just over 2 pounds), the Apex Pro TKL Wireless feels similarly weighty, dense and expensive as SteelSeries’ more compact keyboards, but there’s unquestionably a lot more room for one’s fingers to move around in. Having used full-sized keyboards for most of my life as well as just coming off a review of the Apex 9 Mini, my two biggest fears going into this review were that I would find the key spacing similarly cramped and that the loss of the NUM pad would negatively impact my typing experience, but neither situation proved to be the case.  

“At 960 grams (just over 2 pounds), the Apex Pro TKL Wireless feels similarly weighty, dense and expensive as SteelSeries’ more compact keyboards…”

The 84-keys of the Apex Pro TKL Wireless feel more reasonably spaced out as a result of the Function Row and Navigation Keys receiving added separation from the main block, and it turns out that those keys were the only ones that I actually missed on the Mini, which are thankfully all present and accounted for here. I still appreciate having a NUM pad for numerical data-entry and spreadsheet-related tasks, but after my first evening of using the Apex Pro TKL Wireless it quickly became apparent to me that I never really needed them.  

It also came as a relief that the 84-key TKL layout is adequate enough that few if any of its keys are required to perform dual tasks, resulting in less headaches for me having to constantly remember or decipher which FN Button + Key Shortcuts do what. 

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The included, detachable magnetic wrist rest goes even further in giving users some more welcome elbow room. It’s of the hard variety, is designed only for the keyboard it accompanies and has a micro-felt top cover that’s soft on the wrists but doomed to pick up dust particles, spittle, and other shiny things that will require the occasional washcloth wipe-down with a bit of soap and water. Still, it’s still far better than no rest at all. I much prefer a softer, memory foam-style option, but at the very least the provided wrist rest looks sharp with its SteelSeries branding and will tide purchasers over until they can find something else. 

A much-lauded feature of the Apex Pro keyboard line is SteelSeries’ OmniPoint Adjustable Mechanical Switch technology, which allows users to adjust the actuation level (read: sensitivity) of each key within the main alphanumeric cluster. Naturally, the Apex Pro TKL Wireless features the 2.0 revision of these switches, allowing for per-key actuation at any point between 0.2 mm and 3.8 mm.

“The 84-keys of the Apex Pro TKL Wireless feel more reasonably spaced out as a result of the Function Row and Navigation Keys receiving added separation from the main block…”

A lower actuation point means less travel distance is necessary for a keypress to register, hence less downward force is required for said keypress to be recognized. Conversely, a higher actuation point means the opposite, requiring deeper, more deliberate presses for one’s keystrokes to register.   

On paper, this translates to a gaming keyboard that is ideal for gamers and typists alike. The former can tweak the Apex Pro TKL Wireless to be as fast and responsive as they prefer right down to individual keys, while the latter can increase the required actuation to comfortably avoid making the unintended keypresses that are common on other hypersensitive gaming keyboards.  

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Up to five on-board profiles can be saved on the device and users can quickly flip between them via the SteelSeries GG software on PC or directly on the keyboard via an FN+P shortcut or the built-in OLED Smart Display in the top right corner. Further to this, actuation for all keys in the alphanumeric block can also be adjusted together at once via the Smart Display menu as well.  

In practice, I’m pleased to report that OmniPoint 2.0 works as advertised, even more effectively than the dual-actuation, OptiPoint optical switches of the Apex 9 Mini, which in contrast provided only two levels of actuation (1 mm and 1.5 mm) and still produced occasional, errant key-strings at the higher actuation setting. With the Apex Pro TKL Wireless, however, I was able to go into the GG software and quickly create a bespoke “Typing” profile with all keys set to 3 mm, and voilà, no more spontaneous strings of letters. 

“…don’t expect your custom RGB illuminations to carry over if you choose to use the Apex Pro TKL Wireless with your game console…”

A second supposed advantage of OmniPoint 2.0’s comparatively generous actuation range is that when combined with two other Apex Pro-exclusive features, Dual Actuation and Dual Binding, users can assign two different actions to the same key, each with their own distinct actuation point. The result is of course that pressing one key will produce two different actions depending on how deeply the key is pressed, such as lightly depressing “W” to walk versus holding the button down in order to sprint in Halo Infinite

Such Dual Binding + Dual Actuation can be programmed on up to eight keys of one’s choosing within the alphanumeric block, streamlining the number of keys that a KB+M player needs to utilize, and theoretically offering a distinct gameplay advantage over the competition.  

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All that being said, I found the process of setting up all the above in GG to be obtuse to the point of tedium, and when the rubber actually hit the road I discovered that the ability of my fingers to distinguish between a half-press and a full press was extremely poor. Unless your fingertips are as deft as a wine sommelier’s palate is sensitive, I’d recommend skipping these ancillary gimmicks altogether. 

Speaking of gimmicks, the latest iteration of the previously mentioned OLED Smart Display is, for some inexplicable reason, “dumber” than its predecessors. That’s not to say that there aren’t any valid reasons to appreciate it. Its built-in roller knob and action button make for simple yet nifty media playback controls, the screen can be programmed to display custom GIFs and useful information such as the keyboard’s battery life or lock status, and most importantly the Smart Display can be used to switch between saved keyboard profiles and actuation levels without having to go into the GG software App, among other small conveniences. But there are also some truly jaw-dropping omissions.  

For one thing, you can no longer cycle through the keyboard’s RGB profiles (default or custom) using the Smart Display like you could with the original Apex Pro. In fact, the only illumination-related option that can be manually changed via this method is Brightness, which feels extremely limited for a gaming keyboard in 2022.  

Even worse, despite the ability to create custom RGB Illumination profiles in GG, those profiles can’t be directly tied to one’s custom keyboard profiles in any way, so if you want your personalized COD Warzone RGB layout to accompany your custom keyboard bindings for that game, you’ll need to open up GG on your PC desktop and select it there. No shortcuts I’m afraid.  

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Oh, and don’t expect your custom RGB illuminations to carry over if you choose to use the Apex Pro TKL Wireless with your game console. Each of the five profiles stored in memory get a pre-selected default RGB effect when connected to a console or unfamiliar PC and that’s about it. 

Thankfully, the Apex Pro TKL Wireless’ marquee feature, namely it’s dual 2.4GHz Quantum 2.0/Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, largely makes up for these disappointments, even if its overall implementation is a little cumbersome. The Apex Pro TKL Wireless’ support for Bluetooth is ideal for scenarios when one just needs to type and/or the available ports on one’s computer is limited, as Bluetooth eliminates the need to take up one of those slots.  

“…there are few if any alternatives out there as solid, reliable and suitably flashy as the Apex Pro TKL Wireless Keyboard.”

The immediate trade-off however is noticeable input lag when compared with the instantaneous response that Quantum 2.0 delivers, which is practically indistinguishable from a wired connection, and is the ideal way to play games on the Apex Pro TKL Wireless if you absolutely must play without wires. 

What’s irritating to me though is that SteelSeries has chosen to stick with the same confounding design for its wireless dongles as it did for the Aerox 5 Wireless Gaming Mouse, which has a girth that doesn’t play well alongside other USB connectors in tight spaces. An even bigger headache, however, is that the dongle is USB-C, so you’ll need a USB-C female to USB-A male adapter to connect it to most computers out there, especially when you consider that most pre-built computers these days ship with only one native USB-C port (if you’re lucky).  

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Regardless of the above concerns though, there’s little else that I can complain about with the Apex Pro TKL Wireless. It shares the same solid, aircraft-grade aluminum alloy construction, fadeproof Double Shot PBT keycaps, and durability of up to 100 million keystrokes like its SteelSeries contemporaries, it feels extremely comfortable and satisfyingly “crunchy” to tap away on, and it never misses a keypress unless you’ve gone into the settings and messed around with the actuation.

Most importantly, its QUANTUM 2.0 wireless performance is flawless. Its vanilla selection of RGB effects and patterns are identical to what’s been available on other SteelSeries keyboards for years, but this appears to be more a symptom of wider compatibility as SteelSeries GG has evolved into a delivery platform for add-on content that works across all the brand’s connected devices. 

The $100 question then (or $329.99 CAD question if you will) is whether the Apex Pro TKL Wireless warrants such a high sticker price. Considering that a near-identical, wired-only version exists for $80 less and that for most gaming keyboard users wireless connectivity is more of a novelty than it is a necessity, I’d tend to steer interested buyers in the direction of a wired option where one’s dollar is sure to go further. But if your specific use case is one where running a USB cable to your keyboard is such a hindrance to your setup that you’re willing to throw the added cash at it to make the problem go away, there are few if any alternatives out there as solid, reliable and suitably flashy as the Apex Pro TKL Wireless Keyboard. 

Final Thoughts

REVIEW SCORE

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