By: Aaron Lai
May 4, 2018
At my current work place, we have several places that we hit up for lunch that are within walking distance. Majority of them are a bit expensive, at least in my opinion, but I enjoy going for the walk to get some fresh air. As a software developer, you do not really get out of your chair a whole lot, so getting this opportunity is nice. One day on our way back, one of the interns glanced over at a building and pointed out some graffiti on the side of a building. As our office is located in a somewhat industrial area in Calgary, this was not too surprising to see some art from the locals around. "WITNESS THE LITNESS" was spray painted on the side of a building in black. Immediately, I took a shot and sent it off to one of my more meme-craving friends, jokingly asking her if she was responsible. While of course I knew she was not actually the perpetrator, I knew she would get a kick out of it, especially with her deep love of current trends and jokes. However, when I got wind of the fact SteelSeries could send us a new keyboard for review, I immediately wanted it. As you may have read in the past, I have both the Sensei 310 and the QcK Prism, and from those products, I knew I could use their utility to synchronize all of the lighting. This keyboard we have today, the Apex M750 TKL, is a tenkeyless keyboard, which is something I really like. As such, I hope today's review will allow both you and I to truly witness the litness.
Today's review unit of the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL arrived from Miami, Florida. Traveling via UPS and their standard ground service, the box arrived in pretty good condition. There are a few bumps and marks around the corrugated cardboard box, but thankfully there is nothing wrong with the review unit inside. It seems whoever sent us this product must have had full confidence in UPS, as they did not include any paper, bubbles, or any sort of padding. Overall though, the product arrived with no issues to speak of, so I guess the trust paid off.
Out of the shipping container, we have the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL in its retail container. Following the black and orange SteelSeries coloring scheme, this box fits in with all of the recent SteelSeries products we have seen. With some interesting patterns and things in the background, the foreground shows off the keyboard in its full illumination. The top left corner shows SteelSeries' logo with the product name and description on the lower right side. The top right side shows the fact there are SteelSeries QX2 linear mechanical switches under each key. Otherwise, some features on the front show off the RGB lighting, aluminum backplate, and compact design. Around the box, there are some more features and specifications, but there is not much else to really speak about.
Before we continue, here are some specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
Top Material: 5000 Series Aluminum Alloy, Matte Black Finish
N-Key Roll Over: 104-Key (All)
Anti-Ghosting: 100% (Full)
Illumination: Individually controllable per-key RGB, including whole-keyboard patterns and reactive typing effects
Programmability: Fully Programmable with Key Rebinds, Key Press Macros, Text Based Macros, and More
Weight: 1.9 lbs
Height: 160 mm
Width: 370 mm
Depth: 35 mm
Cable Length: 2 m, 6.5 ft
Type & Name: SteelSeries QX2 Linear Mechanical RGB Switch
Actuation Point: 2 mm
Total Travel: 4 mm
Lifetime: 50 Million Keypresses
OS: Windows and Mac OS X. USB port required
Software: SteelSeries Engine 3.11.6+, for Windows (7 or newer) and Mac OSX (10.9 or newer)
Out of the box, you will get the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL in a sealed glossy plastic bag. The cable extends out the back and is wrapped together with a SteelSeries branded Velcro. In addition, there is a set of rubber feet to fit on the bottom of the keyboard, as you will see later in this review. Otherwise, we have a small manual that goes over some of the secondary functions and features of the keyboard. We will see what these are later on. Otherwise, SteelSeries has included a one year warranty on their keyboards. It is a bit disappointing, considering most keyboard manufacturer's offer at least two years of coverage.
While the most recent SteelSeries Apex M500 was a return to a more basic implementation of the keyboard, the Apex M750 TKL hearkens to the Apex M800 we looked at previously, though with some more updated aesthetics. With this keyboard, we have the more island style of keys and an exposed backplate. This aerospace aluminum looks sleek and clean compared to the plastic exterior shells we have seen previously. In addition, we still have the same triangular sideburns, though they are not as pronounced as they were before. These sides do not flare out as much, but each triangle is outlined with a chrome finish. The backplate is also pretty slick in the sense that it curves over the top and the bottom of the keyboard, making for a refined finish. The sides are a plastic lining, with the bottom of the keyboard also being a plastic affair. Otherwise, I really like the look of the Apex M750 TKL, as it takes the same flavor from previous Apex keyboards and merges it with some present trends.
As for dimensions, the keyboard is 370mm in width, 35mm in height, and 160mm in depth. Compared to other tenkeyless keyboards like the Cooler Master MasterKeys S PBT, this keyboard is a bit bigger in all dimensions. This is understandable considering the flaring edges, top, and bottom. In terms of mass, this keyboard is quite light at around 861g. This keyboard feels light, though this should not be mistaken as fragile. With its aluminum exposed backplate, the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL exhibits zero flex, wobble, creak, or bend in either the keys or the body. Even with a plastic base, this keyboard is as sturdy as ever. On a day to day use, this is one of the best built keyboards I have used in a very long time, which is exceptional considering how light it feels. One thing that you will notice missing from this keyboard is a wrist rest, which I would have liked to see to accommodate different users and their needs.
The SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL came to us in a standard 87-key QWERTY ANSI layout. As such, most of the keyboard is laid out in the same way as every other keyboard sent to APH Networks. Windows keys can be found on both sides rather than having the right side button act as a menu shortcut. The keycaps are a bit thinner in quality than I would have liked and I will get to these later on. The bottom row comes with a standard layout, with all of the keys other than the Space bar being a 1.25u size. Three small white LED indicators exist on the right hand side near the arrow keys. They are actually quite hidden away, but they serve the same indicator purpose, with the lights representing Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and the Windows lock indicator we have seen so often. As this keyboard has no number pad, it makes sense there is no Num Lock indicator. Just to note, SteelSeries does have a standard Apex M750 in a full 104-key layout if you so desire. In fact, this keyboard was created in response to fans wanting a tenkeyless design, so I am really glad to see SteelSeries listening and following what their users want.
Otherwise, other function keys can be found around the entire keyboard. They can be activated by pressing the Fn button in addition to the respective keys. Most of the keys exist on the top function row and their secondary functions are activated by pressing the SteelSeries logo key and the preferred key in combination. F5 and F6 are used to decrease and increase brightness. F7 to F9 are media keys, and are Previous, Play/Pause, and Next. F10 to F12 are Volume keys to Mute, decrease, and increase volume. The last set of secondary keys are near the right side, and they all have to do with backlighting. However, these ones are not marked. Instead, SteelSeries has indicated all keys with secondary functions by changing their backlight color to orange when the Function key is pressed down. This is one of the sleekest implementations I have seen, showing a nice blend of form and function. I will cover the backlight keys later on, as they are quite extensive.
As for key rollover, the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL offers NKRO over USB. NKRO is abbreviated for n-key rollover, which refers to the number of keys independently scanned by the hardware. In essence, this fixes ghosting issues found in cheaper and/or laptop keyboards. While ghosting is a marketing term, there are cases where keyboards will not be able to recognize more than one keystroke at a time, causing for missed keys. This can be frustrating when you are playing games, or even if you are just a very fast typist. On an aside, the original usage of ghosting in keyboards actually referred to a third key being registered when two other keys were pressed, which thankfully is not a problem with most modern keyboards.
Before continuing on, one of the main selling points of the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL is the mechanical key switches. There are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest but most common is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. Next is a scissor switch keyboard. This can be thought of as an enhanced rubber dome with two extra interlocking plastic pieces connected to the key and the keyboard. This creates a better tactile response and typing experience in comparison to the aforementioned membrane. Mechanical keyboards, such as the Apex M750 TKL, cost the most, because each key switch is an independent part. These switches are generally composed of a base, stem, and spring, with varying degrees of tactile and audible feedback.
Our unit of the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL features SteelSeries QX2 Linear mechanical switches, which are why they are red in nature. According to some previous material, the QX2 switch was developed in partnership with Gateron, another manufacturer that develops Cherry MX clones. As such, this switch is intended to be like the Cherry MX Red switch. These are rated to last only up to fifty million keystrokes, which is standard. These type of linear switches are what I would call a gamer switch, as they feature a quiet typing experience and a relatively low actuation force to trigger them. The QX2 switch also feature a low resistance to typing with a linear travel with a 45g actuation force. With these SteelSeries QX2 Linear switches, we have a travel distance of 4mm and actuation distance of 2mm. I have not tried Gateron switches before, but we will see what they are like to use later on. Otherwise, you can see there is a clear enclosure for each switch, allowing the RGB lighting to spill through and bleed out.
As you can see here, the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL keycaps and island style layout from the front. The keycaps are relatively thin with ABS plastic construction and honestly do not feel as premium as the rest of the keyboard. It is a disappointing, especially when you compare these to more durable plastics such as PBT. These thicker plastics provide a different tactile feedback, but they are also more resistant from shining after long term use. Otherwise, the keycaps do wobble slightly, though it is not too different from other keyboards I have used. Finally, from this angle, you can see the back plug, which is a fixed 2m rubber cable. While I would have liked to see a braided cable, I also like the flexibility from the rubber material. As long as you are not yanking around on the cable, it should not wear or tear any more than regular cables. It would have been nice to see a wireless version of this keyboard, especially with other manufacturers starting to do this, but I will just to see what SteelSeries responds with next. There are no additional USB ports or audio connections, though I have never really found them too useful in the past.
At the bottom of the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL, we have a plastic bottom, mixing both glossy and textured areas. In the middle is a product information sticker, with serial number and other certification markings for the keyboard itself. As for rubber grip, the bottom is lined with two long strips of rubber to prevent any sliding. However, the real differentiating piece from other keyboards is right in the top protruding feet. Instead of using a standard kickstand option, SteelSeries have provided two set of different height risers to help you flatten or elevate your keyboard, depending on which way you want to adjust the keyboard. While it is not necessarily as easy to switch back and forth between the two heights, it definitely stays in place better. As well, since it is fully rubber, these feet will keep grip with the surface you place your keyboard on. This solution is pretty similar to some previous SteelSeries keyboards and I am growing to like this implementation.
Plugging in the Apex M750 TKL, the SteelSeries keyboard came to life, illuminating in a bright rainbow wave. When it comes to these SteelSeries QX2 linear switches, or Gateron Reds for the more generic term, I really enjoy the feedback and feel from these switches. They provide a really light actuation force, while providing a nice bounce on the rebound of the keystrokes. Their key travel is clean and consistent across all of the keys, even when comparing the longer keys with the Cherry stabilizers. Compared to the original Cherry MX Red, there is a bit of difference between the keys. It is not a huge difference, but you can feel some slight differences between the two brands of switches. Even so, I really like these switches, as they truly provide a consistent and enjoyable feel. I do still have my things to pick with linear, low actuation force switches in general, such as accidental keypresses, but I think these ones are top notch.
Honestly, the best part about island-style keyboards comes in the form of lighting, especially when done right. As for the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL, the lighting is bright and color accurate to the included software utility. 16.8 million colors can be chosen and used to illuminate this keyboard in the darkness, making for some really interesting effects. As well, SteelSeries has really upped their game in terms of providing many combinations of lighting effects and patterns. While we have the standard static and wave patterns, we also have reactive patterns. The first set of patterns include different modes in addition to per-key customization. The second set have your standard reaction modes like fading or illuminating keys around the one you just pressed. However, these two sets can be combined, so you can have a static pattern merged with a reactive lighting effect to show when keys are activated. This multiplicity of customization is great to see. I would personally use the utility to set up these effects, but SteelSeries does also allow you to change some settings with the keyboard alone. With the function key, Print Screen, Insert, and Delete are all used to change the backlight speed, mode, and color. Scroll Lock, Home, and End are used to change the same respective aspects but for reactive lighting effects. I think SteelSeries really knows how to backlight their keyboards and it truly shows with the quality and options available on the Apex M750 TKL.
If there is one thing I have always liked about SteelSeries, it is their included utility software. I know their products are quite good in general, but their software has always been the cream of the crop for several reasons. First of all, it is intuitive to use and offers a lot of options. The first tap allows you to change key bindings, where you can record and set macros to be assigned to keys. There are no additional macro keys to assign these keys to, but it is still nice to have macro capabilities. The second tab allows you to change the lighting effects as I mentioned in the previous page. Its per-key selection is easy to use and allows you to select multiple keys at a time. Finally, the third tab has some setting options, including changing the region of the keyboard, polling rate, and the brightness of the backlight. The second reason why SteelSeries software is above the rest is because of its cross-product integration. With my Sensei 310 and QcK Prism, I could synchronize all of them to have the same pattern or the same effect. It was not as synchronized as I would have liked, but it still made lighting all of these products the same way really easily. The third and final reason is the game integration. In the SteelSeries Engine, you can set the software to detect what games you are playing and change the lighting based on the currently running game. For me, it let me illuminate the hotkeys for my games like Overwatch and League of Legends. Overall, the software experience is a polished job and its integration within and outside of its environment is excellent
As I type this conclusion now, with my keyboard, mouse, and mouse pad all shining the same colors, I can truly say the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL has completed the trifecta for me to witness the litness. However, this tenkeyless keyboard has more than just lights to make it an excellent keyboard. By far, this is one of the best built keyboards I have used in a very long time with a seriously solid and sturdy build. It sticks to a similar design we have seen from previous Apex keyboards, but on a smaller scale. It checks off all the boxes in features such as NKRO and media keys. In terms of typing performance, these might not have the genuine Cherry MX switches, but they feel just as polished and show no inconsistency in feel or sound. The light linear response will definitely appeal to gamers, which is one of the target audiences for tenkeyless keyboards anyway. The software integration within and outside of SteelSeries products is amazing to see and the utility itself offers everything you want in terms of customization. Last but not least, the RGB lighting is one to behold, with colors bleeding out brightly, evenly, and correctly. Really, I only have a couple of things to nitpick on the SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL. I really wish SteelSeries included a removable wrist rest with this keyboard to allow for palm comfort. I also think the one year warranty is too short and should be doubled at a minimum. At the time of publishing, this keyboard is available for $120 USD. While it is not the cheapest keyboard in its form factor, with its features, lighting, and SteelSeries integration for the Apex M750 TKL, this keyboard is definitely a worthy choice.
SteelSeries provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.5/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
Witness the litness: The SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL is a polished keyboard from beginning to end, RGB lighting and all.
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