Keyboards have come a long way since I took my first steps into PC peripherals in the late 90s. Everything now is about colour, pop and trying to include as many features as humanly possible, from removable key caps to matching wrist rests. The biggest impact in terms of advancement was always in the keys themselves, their response times and longevity playing a major part in customer decision making, but in recent years there’s been a trend towards smaller, sleeker keyboards that take up less space on the desk yet still provide the same effectiveness as their bigger counterparts.
SteelSeries have numerous top-quality keyboards to their name already, I’m a long-time user of the Apex 3 myself, so the opportunity to get hands-on with a much smaller keyboard in the Apex 9 Mini appealed to me. I hadn’t used a 60% keyboard previously, but the thought did cross my mind considering the kinds of games I play on PC and the rather cramped space on my desk. Their small frame allows for far more room to adjust things like desktop microphones (if like me you don’t have an adjustable mic arm), but the question remained whether I could achieve the same kind of productivity and results with a setup far smaller than what I’m used to.
A tiny box, but some grand content
Now I’m happy to admit that taking the Apex 9 Mini out of its box surprised me, it’s not like I haven’t seen a 60% keyboard before, but its miniature and clean frame still caught me out. Sitting it next to my Apex 3 the differences were obvious, but once I connected it up with the included USB-C to USB-A cable things became clear. The Apex 9 Mini’s clean presentation and OptiPoint linear optical switches work wonders in just about every setup, I was able to easily type in the same fashion as always (if you’re so inclined), but when powering up Destiny 2 it became apparent how the 0.2ms response time made a difference to my reactions on screen. I was able to dodge just that bit better than before, avoiding collisions that I would otherwise likely find myself running head long into on my Apex 3. That’s no slight on the bigger keyboard, it does exactly what I want from it, but if reactions are key to your gaming experience, the Apex 9 Mini has you covered.
What’s OptiPoint, I hear you typing? Unlike traditional mechanical keys that use metal detection points, OptiPoint uses two light sensors (infrared and phototransistor) to detect key touches that can also measure the amount of light that passes through the key to ensure faster and reliable reactions. Having used plenty of mechanical keyboard in the past, I’m a sucker for a good soft touch, quiet key type (hence my more recent choice of the Apex 3), and the Apex 9 Mini fits within those same parameters. There’s no mechanical clacking sound from every press and the dreaded double press issue that can creep up from time to time rarely (if ever) showed its head.
Every key and switch on the keyboard can be replaced using the included keycap puller, which stores underneath when not in use. So, if soft-touch keys aren’t your preference, you can easily purchase a set of clicky or tactile keys and replace them without fuss. I’m more than happy allowing my ears to focus on the action instead of the keyboard itself, but the ability to adjust just about everything on the 9 Mini is a welcome one, especially for those who are looking to use it across multiple different activities, who might prefer using certain switches for gaming instead of typing.
For comparison, the Apex 9 Mini rests on my trust Apex 3
Speaking of which, there’s an included function on the 9 Mini that adjusts between gaming and typing modes. I didn’t find myself needing to adjust between them too often, but there’s a slight difference in response times depending on what you’re up to. Considering I’d be more inclined to use a bigger keyboard to properly touch type, especially one that comes with a wrist rest, it’s likely this function won’t be commonly used by most gamers, but it’s a welcome inclusion nonetheless.
As for the size difference, it did take a little getting used to. Without a wrist rest, I had to slightly adjust my hand placement compared to what I was used to. There are plenty of eSports athletes that can attest to how important a smaller setup can be, especially those who sit closer to a screen than I do, so on that point the Apex 9 Mini will most definitely fit the bill. It’s a no-nonsense design, similarly constructed within an aluminium frame as its bigger cousins, but perfectly compact. That does mean there are no extra features common across the rest of the range, such as a volume roller which can be found on the sister keyboard, the Apex 9 TKL, but the intention of the Apex 9 Mini isn’t to throw the kitchen sink at the concept.
Ultimately, the biggest contributing factor to your own decision on choosing a 60% keyboard like the Apex 9 Mini is the price. At AU$299, it’s a steeper price point when compared to similar keyboard types such as the Razer Huntsman Mini or Corsair K65 Mini. But its included functions, adaptability and quality construction more than outweigh that concern, which ultimately leaves you with a simple choice – go for the best quality, or a cheaper, inferior alternative.
The SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is a wonderfully constructed keyboard that sets the bar for 60% designs. It doesn’t go out of its way to introduce silly extra functions, leaving a clean and balanced construction for those looking to get into the smaller keyboard space. Though its price point can be a sticking point, the ability to invest in it and adjust every switch and key to suit your style can be worth the asking price if that’s your goal. Mini keyboards aren’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for the best and brightest in that space, the Apex 9 Mini should be on your shopping list.
Review unit supplied by the manufacturer