Pros: Design, GameSense activation, software, full programmable
Cons: Lack of accessories, QS1 key switch feels like a membrane rubber dome keyboard, price
Build Quality & Accessories: 8/10
Design & Look: 8/10
My final Rating: 8.5/10
Review Date: August 2015
Review Price: £140 / $190
After having previously reviewed the original Apex gaming keyboard, I was very much intrigued to see how the new RGB mechanical keyboard, that utilises SteelSeries’ very own QS1 switch would compare and furthermore stack up against other mechanical keyboards out there on the market, namely those using Cherry MX switches.
I would like to thank SteelSeries for yet again sending me the keyboard for review.
The Apex M800 can be found for around £140 on AmazonUK and around $190 on AmazonUSA. I should note the version I got sent has the UK Layout keyboard.
Before getting into my written review, here’s my video review of the Apex M800:
Now let’s get into this written review!
Full specification and a description of the keyboard can be found on SteelSeries’ website.
Before getting into the build quality of the M800, I would like to describe the package contents. I felt the contents were really lacking, especially for a keyboard that’s quite expensive. At the price of £80 for the original Apex, I could somewhat understand, however even then, other keyboards that are cheaper come with some accessories and it was disappointing to not really find any accessories, mainly the lack of a key puller, additional “gaming set” of keys (such as WASD and additional arrow keys), and more than anything a wrist rest, which to me was the thing that really bothered me.
In the package you do receive the following:
- Rubber keyboard riser
- Apple key replacement
- SteelSeries sticker
With what’s included, I really like the rubber risers that are included. It’s exactly what was included in the original Apex, and it’s nice to see it being used by SteelSeries again in the M800. It might not seem like much, but those plastic keyboard risers can get broken relatively easy and by having a rubber riser, it prevents any breakage happening and doubles up as giving the keyboard some grip on slippery surfaces.
Now moving on to the build quality of the keyboard itself. First of all, the keyboard is connected and powered by a gold-plated USB. There is a secondary USB cable which is used to power and utilise the two USB 2.0 ports that can be found at the front side of the keyboard. This allows quick access to a USB slot, without having to go behind the PC/monitor. I would have liked to see USB 3.0 used, as in this day and age there are far more USB 3.0 devices and motherboards out there – and furthermore the cost has greatly reduced over time for both consumers and manufacturers. On a separate note the cable that connects the keyboard is braided, and it’s nice to see this type of cable being used by SteelSeries.
Now looking more closely at the keyboard itself, it was nice to see some key features being utilised. What really caught my eye, literally speaking, was the SteelSeries button, that transforms the F5 to F12 keys into dedicated media keys. What I like about this is not only the fact that it is super responsive and colour illuminated, but that SteelSeries have thought of a way to integrate the feature, without clogging up the keyboard – as with the original Apex, with all its Macros, it meant it was overly big – and its dedicated media keys (despite being useful) added to the clutter on the keyboard.
Therefore, the M800 has the ability to up/down brightness, previous/next, play/pause, stop and vol+/-. To add to all of this, the clever inclusion of having the Windows lock there is very well thought out. By pressing the SteelSeries button and then the left Windows key, it does a Win-Lock, something that’s useful for gamers alike.
Moving on is the 6 programmable keys that can be found on the left-hand side of the keyboard. These are pretty standard nowadays, however I was disappointed with the lack of an easy mapping function for these keys. By this I mean the fact that I couldn’t simply map one of these keys with Win+3, which I have programmed on my G710+’s software as opening my browser, Google Chrome. Instead you are presented by a long list of different options and a Macro Recorder. This is useful for MMORPG /RPG gamers, however for someone like myself who plays FPS games, and uses the PC as a media hub, I would have liked to be able to map these keys to certain Windows tasks.
Now, the most important part of this review and the build quality section, the QS1 mechanical switch. The QS1 is an in-house developed switch, which unlike other manufacturers that went away from Cherry MX switches and are using Chinese manufacturer Kailth’s switches (whilst naming it as their own) in their keyboards – SteelSeries have gone above and beyond in creating their own switch. This is nice to see as it brings another mechanical switch to the market. It’s near impossible for someone like me to test how reliable and accurate the switch is, however SteelSeries have quoted rate of 60-million actuations, whilst also proclaiming itself as the “World’s Fastest Keyboard” by having a lower actuation point (1.5mm vs 2mm). This all means that it’s softer to press and responds “quicker”. But to me personally, that doesn’t make it faster. To me the term “fast” is the speed of which the key is pressed to the PC registering it. I’m not sure there’s a test or one that I could realistically carry out – but I can’t imagine it being faster than the Cherry MX switches. In a nutshell, due to the switch being more easily pressed, at the same rated force of 45CN, it means it would seem faster to respond as you have to have to press with less effort.
Make it as you will, but that’s the specs of the switch, but in realist terms, how does it perform?
Well I found the switch to be very punctual, very easy to press and extremely responsive with excellent anti-ghosting capabilities. However the actual feel of the keyboard felt extremely similar, if not identical to one found in a rubber-dome mechanical keyboard. Now this can be seen as a huge advantage, as people moving from a rubber dome keyboard won’t feel that they have to adopt to a new way of typing or gaming, but would benefit from the faster, better responding mechanical key switches. To me however, I felt that it didn’t give that extra “Vavavoom” that I like to feel when typing on a mechanical keyboard – the almost clicky/clunky-esk feel of a mechanical keyboard, which is found in Cherry MX switches (I personally use Cherry MX Browns, and prefer it among all the other Cherry MX switches out there).
Now for me to explain the feel of this keyboard is quite simple. For those that don’t know what a mechanical keyboard is – then it’s a membrane rubber dome keyboard, but more accurate and responds better.
For those that know Cherry MX switches, then it’s a MX Red, that’s a little softer and more low-profile.
Overall, the switch is good, but for me it doesn’t really provide anything that aspiring or mind-blowing. It just feels like two other switches, both Cherry MX Red and a rubber dome and put into one. On the plus side, the switch works as intended and does provide a new switch on the market.
I would also like to note that the switch is relatively quiet – in comparison to my MX Brown with black rubber O-rings, it was quieter, and in comparison to a stock MX Red, it made less of a clunk/click/actuation sound – The MX is a linear switch, so doesn’t have clicking sounds unlike the MX Blues, but in comparison to the QS1 does sound somewhat clicky.
Now the design of the keyboard would have been covered in part in the build quality section just above. With that said, I thought to include a few other points that revert back the fundamental design of the keyboard and the thus the typing experience on it. This section, I feel is a little subjective, but with that said I feel it should be mentioned regardless.
To me the design of the keyboard is really well thought out – it vastly improves over the previous Apex, which was overly big in my opinion (despite having its benefits). Now the overly big space bar is back – Hate it or Love it as 50-Cent once said, I really find it useful as an FPS gamer and someone that types a lot. The big spacebar means the position of your hand is flatter and therefore is good for your overall posture and hand fatigue. Furthermore, with it being easier to press, when gaming it requires less effort to hit the spacebar, as it has a greater physical area.
Now looking at the keyboard and it’s fully RGB lit keys, it’s great to see the design spanning past the keys and to the side of the keyboard itself. On the sides of the keyboard, there is also a small light that illuminates and it’s nice to see SteelSeries have included this, as it just adds that extra touch of coolness to it.
However, one thing I noticed about the design of the keyboard, is the use of plastic. Now to me it’s not a big deal, but I can see people complaining about it, as it doesn’t ooze quality. I am however used to typing and paying sizeable amounts of money for full-plastic keyboards. On the plus side the keyboard isn’t a fingerprint magnet, due to its matte-esk finish. Again, one thing that really went missing is the lack of a wrist rest, which to me is a design-flaw and it’s a shame that it isn’t included.
Overall the design is really well thought out, but could have been just that little bit better in certain areas.
The software that’s included is sensational – it just feels like not long ago where the SteelSeries software was horrendous. It’s safe to say that over the last year, SteelSeries have really up their game (literally), with their software. For the M800 you can literally do everything, including program the keyboard to play Snake! Yes the old Nokia 3310 game everyone played – which is fantastic, from a software standpoint.
The software allows customisation in multiple different forms, such as changing how macros behave, to changing the key illumination of the software. Which is all pretty standard to some, but it works perfectly – and the fact you can customise every individual switch is excellent.
Just to add the icing on the cake, SteelSeries have developed GameSense. Essentially GameSense is a way of the keyboard communicating in real-time with what is being displayed on your game. Currently there are only a few games supported, which are Counter-Strike Global Offensive, Dota 2 and Minecraft. For me as a CS:GO competitive player, I really loved the inclusion of CS:GO – the integration is flawless and extremely responsive. Here’s a linked video from SteelSeries showing it in action in CS:GO. The fact that this is possible with the M800 is incredible, however for someone like me who games quite a lot – I don’t tend to look at my keyboard, meaning the feature is ultimately pointless – I’m not sure where or how it would be useful, but either way, I can’t downplay the fact that SteelSeries have developed this and integrated it into a keyboard that can utilise new technology and software like this. Who knows this might create a trend for RGB keyboard manufacturers and mean that more is done on the software side, that complements the hardware keyboard.
Overall, the software is fantastic, but it was a shame that the macro keys (as mentioned before), can’t easily be programmed to simple Windows functions.
Overall, I really like what SteelSeries have done with their keyboard – there’s no real flaws with the keyboard and it works flawlessly. However, I never at any point in using the keyboard felt that it really brought something greatly useful or exciting. For example the new QS1 switch isn’t that special to me, GameSense is a feature I would show off to my friends, but then turn off and finally the lack of accessories mean you might have to purchase additional things to clean your keyboard. I should mention that as the QS1 switch is different, you cannot put any MX key caps on it, which for me having a few very cool keycaps, is a shame.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a fully customisable and programmable mechanical keyboard that simulates typing and gaming on a rubber dome membrane keyboard, then the M800 should be on your top to-buy list.
Hope you enjoyed my review!