Steelseries APEX PRO Review – Does Omnipoint REALLY Matter?
Today we’re going to talk about the SteelSeries Apex PRO keyboard with new Omnipoints switches. Now we have done several videos on the keyboard and the switches during Computex – which you can check out over here, but now that I’ve actually had the keyboard in my studio for about a week I can finally make up my mind of what I think about the Omnipoint technology.
The Key Technology
The general overview of the Omnipoint switches is that there’s a magnet at the bottom, there’s another magnet in the stem, and when you press the switch it creates this magnetic flux. You can then measure that flux and through software and through different calibration processes, you can change the actuation point on when that key is registered from 0.4 millimeters to 3.6 millimeters, which gives you that whole range of movement of when that key is actually registered. So you basically can create your own speed switch or create something with a little depth for typing, basically all the way up to 3.6mm which means that you most likely will have to bottom out the key in order to activate the switch.
It is important to know that measuring this magnetic flux – known as the Hall effect – is nothing new, this is not something that Steelseries has patented and in fact we’ve seen this sort of a actuation customization that on the Wooting One and Wooting Two keyboards a via the Flaretech optical switches. So there’s a laser and it detects how much distance is passed between the stem and the bottom. So the Omnipoint direction with magnets a kind of better in a way because we have a much larger range of actuation customization. But this isn’t something that Steelseries invented, so I wanted to clarify that here.
APEX PRO & APEX PRO TKL
Overall I’m pretty happy with the execution of the Omnipoint switches, but it is an expensive keyboard for $199 or $179 for the TKL version. Now before we get into the meat of the Omnipoint switch, let’s talk about the keyboard itself. I love the low profile nature of the actual frame, there is no excessive pieces sticking out above the F keys, nothing on the sides, nothing below the space bar. I love the low profile and really smooth wrist rest, and the fact that it attaches magnetically is wonderfully executed.
There is a USB passthrough in the top left corner that is illuminated, which is why the cable is so thick. That is one disadvantage, it would be nice if the cable was removable, but you can route it across the bottom of the keyboard to channel it in whichever direction you want. The keyboard feet have one orientation angle, which is nice. However, they’re not strong enough, so if I push the keyboard from the front they might collapse and that has happened to me many times and it destabilizes one end of the keyboard and completely messes up my a finger placement on the WASD area.
Now regarding this whole OLED screen implementation in the actual keyboard. In the beginning I was like this is kind of cool, but after having used it in some games, it’s kind of pointless. I will say it is fantastic for menu customization so you can access your macros, your illumination, your actuation point, your profiles and different other settings without actually going into the driver software. All that is done through the OLED screen, and with the help of a little joystick wheel and one multi-function button, but the actual wheel feels very cheap. The scroll steps for example are kind of weak, I feel like I have no control. The actual click of the wheel is also kind of poor and for $200 this is not what I was expecting.
The reason why I say the screen is pointless for in-game integrations and applications is because it is so limited. It works in games like CS:GO or DOTA 2 or Minecraft and you can see your kill-to-death ratio, you can see which round you’re on, you can customize when those appear and for how long they stay on screen. But the screen is kind of out-of-sight, when I’m playing a game I’m never looking down to see what my kill-to-death ratio is and what round it is. From my perspective, given the supported games list is so little, unless you play one of the supported games this is really not a value add.
Of course, you can do cool things with animated GIFs and actually draw your own little graphic to display. But do you ever really look at the keyboard for any information outside of maybe readjusting your hand or seeing where certain characters? Basically the display on the keyboard is more of a gimmick than it is actually useful in real life. That is of course my opinion based on my recent experience.
I will say that the Omnipoint switches really saved the APEX PRO and the PRO TKL keyboards because they really are fantastic at what they do and how they feel. I’m a huge fan of Gateron Red switches, they are currently my favorite and the Omnipoints remind me of those with their incredibly smooth travel distance throughout the entire range, which is exactly what you need when you can customize the actuation points from 0.4mm to 3.6mm. Just let that sink in for a second, less than half a millimeter to press before the keys register. In game sometimes I would not realize that I’d be pressing the Shift key and my character was walking or sometimes I would be going slightly sideways because my finger weight was at registering as a keystroke.
At one point my favorite switches were MX Speed that registered at 1.2mm, so they’re really fast and I was really comfortable with that, but eventually moved on to something that actuate at 2.0mm. But here with this keyboard you have that whole customization range basically. You can make your own speed switch, you can go back to red switch, you can maybe even drop the actuation point all the way to 3.6mm in case you really want to bottom out while you’re typing, which is what makes the switch so special.
In the software you can select between one and 10, but you won’t know exactly where the actuation happens in terms of millimeters. So that makes recreating a certain switch that you’re comfortable with kind of difficult. What is five? With a range of 0.4mm to 3.6mm the 5 setting should be 1.6mm, so I guess they are expecting you do to your own math.
Also important to note Omnipoint switches are only located on 61 keys. Everything below the F keys and everything to the left of the arrow keys. The rest of the keys are Steelseries Red.
I do appreciate the per-key actuation customization for those 61 switches because my WASD area can be really fast. Same thing with my spacebar. My Shift and Control can be fully actuated so that I don’t accidentally press them or so the weight of my fingers don’t register as a keystroke. And the same thing when I’m doing something around the WASD area just to eliminate any errors while I’m in game. But when I go back to my desktop, all the keys go back to my custom 2.5mm actuation point, which I’m quite comfortable with and I like to bottom out anyway. Basically, the whole per-application and per-switch customization is awesome.
Weirdly they’ve only recently added the per-key illumination customization, before that it was just the whole board and you chose between the different color presets and different profiles. But now you can select your entire range of keys and color them to whatever you want.
Now I am disappointed that Steelseries decided to use ABS key caps instead of something more premium and quality. Once you go PBT it’s hard to go back and you notice the difference in quality of the actual key caps. Just noticing the sub-optimal feel on a premium keyboard like the APEX PRO is disappointing.
You should know that Steelseries decided to avoid the analog direction of being able to detect how far you press and actually registering it that as movement. For example, like we’ve seen with Flaretech, which is on the Wooting One keyboard, you can usually use that feature to like slow down your character depending on how far you press. That is not present with the Omnipoint switches, so it’s only based on the actuation customization and that’s cool, but it’s also limited due to the tech that’s built into the switch.
If you are interested in actuation customization plus having the full analog control, check out the Wooting One and Wooting Two keyboards because through the drivers software you can remap certain keys so they are seen by the program as analog inputs, which gives you the full range of motion in terms of how far you press to, how fast your character moves. I was also hoping to see more functionalities and features built into the Omnipoints switch outside of the actuation control, so like maybe setting the recent point at certain level and having different actuation points beyond the first one, so it’s like double tabs activates something else. Basically, having dual functionalities that are built into the hall effect functionality would be amazing. However, as it is it’s quite basic with the actuation registering distance only. It is cool though to play around with different acceleration points and seeing how it influences your gameplay and your typing experience or whatever.
Given the 100 million key strokes this keyboard will last you for a while so you can switch back and forth depending on how deep you like to press or how light you like tap. All right, so that’s my experience with the APEX PRO keyboard, the Omnipoint switches are fantastic, the actuation customization is super fun, but it’s one of those things where once you set it maybe for like certain games and certain applications.
The OLED screen is pretty underwhelming, it would be nice if it was slightly bigger or maybe in a more visible area. I would like the keyboard feet to be improved. And also the actual little scroll wheel to have a bit more resistance and feel more premium, because using it to control different things just didn’t feel really good.
Thankfully, the frame plus the amazing wrist rest really kind of completes the package and makes this a really premium keyboard, so if you don’t mind spending $200 and want to play around the customization of the actuation for the 61 switches then the APEX PRO and APEX PRO TKL might be for you.