Keyboards can be a dime-a-dozen affair, which makes selecting the right one for you quite confusing. What size keyboard do you get? Which manufacturer do you buy from? What switches do you get? There are a lot of questions that can just leave you confused or exhausted due to how many options there are available. The general gamer consensus is that you get a full-sized mechanical keyboard with the clickiest keys possible, as those are the most satisfying to use. Heck, I was in that crowd once, but I am here to tell you that there are other, better options out there that will leave you with much more desk space and won’t have your neighbours calling the police on you for noise pollution at 2am.
Introducing the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini, a small form factor keyboard that aims to provide for all your gaming needs while occupying significantly less space. This keyboard is built with a 60% form factor, meaning that most keys that go unused by gamers are completely omitted, or are instead bound as secondary functions for keys that every keyboard needs. There are a lot of implications to this which I will get to in a second.
If you are someone who uses a standard-size keyboard, it will take some time to get used to a 60% keyboard. Even small things like the spacing between each key can be slightly different compared to the keyboard that you already use which can quite easily throw you off. Your muscle memory will take a while to retrain but I promise it is worth it.
I have used a fair few small form factor keyboards in my time. From my entry into the small form factor world with the Razer BlackWidow V3 HyperSpeed Mini to my daily driver in my custom-built 65% keyboard, all these keyboards have had the same hurdles to overcome – the extra functions that are added as secondary functions for keys. While it is hard to compare to the custom keyboard due to the nature of being able to bind secondary, and even tertiary commands to keys via layering, the prebuilt industry still tackles it in a variety of ways.
One of the biggest points of difference, I have found, is the placement of the arrow key function. One 60% keyboard that I have used placed it as a secondary function of the I, J, K, and L keys, which just felt odd as it meant having to have both hands on the right side of the keyboard. Instead, the Apex Pro Mini opts to have it in a place that would make sense for most people – on the WASD keys. As someone who uses those functions a lot for typing (look, sometimes I don’t catch a mistake until I have finished writing the sentence), having the arrow keys be bound as a secondary function of WASD makes so much sense and minimises any awkward movements that I have to make while typing. SteelSeries has also put in the work to make sure that other luxuries in keyboards are still present. Media keys, volume control, and lighting control are all present as secondary functions.
So how does the Apex Pro Mini feel to type on? The Apex Pro Mini is by far one of the better, if not the best prebuilt keyboard that I have ever used and typed on. SteelSeries’ OmniPoint 2.0 switch is pretty unique and does a great job at delivering an experience that the competition will struggle to compete against. While I won’t exactly compare it to a custom keyboard, the discussion of such a thing does factor in a bit later. Regardless, while not the best typing experience around, it is still very good. The OmniPoint 2.0 switch, out of the box, feels quite comparable to that of a linear switch and produces similar levels of noise as competing keyboards that feature linear switches.
One of the main factors as to why the actuation of the OmniPoint 2.0 switch is so smooth, and the sound is minimal compared to the standard clicky nonsense, is the fact that SteelSeries’ proprietary switch utilises magnets. Rather than there being this gaudy stem that makes a terrible sound (the stuff of nightmares), there is instead a small stem that never really makes contact with anything at the bottom and magnetism is used to register the actuation of the key. What this also means is these switches are adjustable. You can set different actuation points to tailor the experience to yourself. If you are someone who prefers the key to activate super early in your press, so you can be light with your presses, then you can absolutely set that.
The benefit of the OmniPoint 2.0 switch, as well, is the fact that features can be added and modified just through firmware and updates. The OmniPoint 2.0 switches were recently updated which allowed for their actuation point range to increase from 0.4mm-3.6mm to 0.1mm-4.0mm. One really cool feature that was added, however, is the Rapid Trigger feature, which takes in the motion of the movement to create an incredibly responsive keyboard which proves to be quite good for your gaming experience.
How Rapid Trigger works
Rapid Trigger creates dynamic ‘active’ and ‘reset’ points, rather than having a sole binary actuation point. For stuff like games, this will be very good as it means that the key will deactivate the moment you begin lifting your finger off the key rather than when the stem is above a certain point. Most people probably won’t notice the difference, but if you are playing highly competitive games then this might just give you an edge.
More than just the Rapid Trigger feature, though, you can actually set custom actuation points for individual keys, which is also good for some games where you can sometimes be prone to fat-fingering the wrong key a little bit. I know I am guilty of that, and it was a big problem in Destiny 2 for me, to the point that I ended up rebinding my Super keybind to my middle mouse button as I almost never accidentally press that. If I had this technology available at the time, I probably would never have changed the binding.
The customisation of the actuation points is all done through SteelSeries’ GG software. The best part about this, though, is that the basic functions still work fantastically. The default actuation point is 1.8mm, which is a pretty good middle ground for most users. The average person who buys a prebuilt keyboard probably isn’t too acutely aware of the impact that different actuation points can have, so setting the default actuation as something as agreeable as 1.8mm is a smart move. It makes the keyboard easy to sell to anyone out of the box without requiring the use of SteelSeries’ GG software.
My only real issue with the keys themselves is the fact that they have a lot of wiggle. It’s not that the keys feel like they aren’t secure in the board itself, but rather that key stability isn’t the strongest facet of this keyboard. It’s nothing as bad as some keyboards that I have used, especially compared to membrane keyboards, but when stacked up against the competition, it’s hard not to notice this side of the Apex Pro Mini.
Moving onto the other niceties of the keyboard, we have the keycaps. The keycaps are decent, textured, and have a legend that is easy to read. I am unsure if the legend works well for people with dyslexia, as there are fonts that better cater to them, but the lettering is clean and simple. On the bottom side of certain keycaps, you will also see the standard secondary functions labelled. All the number keys, as well as the minus and plus keys, go from F1 through to F12, in ascending order, the aforementioned WASD keys have the arrow keys and much more. The legend for these secondary functions is pretty small, so I can see how it may be a little difficult to read for people.
Where I found myself really surprised and pleased, yet confused, is with the user serviceability of this keyboard. It’s no secret that prebuilt keyboards have virtually no user serviceability as the switches themselves are soldered into the keyboard, making it very difficult to perform any meaningful maintenance on the keyboard. However, the Apex Pro Mini thoughtfully includes a keycap remover on the underside of the keyboard, concealed by a flexible rubber flap. This does allow you to have some form of user serviceability in the form of cleaning your keycaps and removing any particulates that may be resting on the board underneath, but given that the switches are still soldered, any true meaningful form of user servicing is just not possible.
So why does user servicing matter so much? Well, the Apex Pro Mini and the Apex Pro Mini Wireless cost $399 and $499, respectively. That is an incredibly steep price for a keyboard that, if it has any issues, you need to replace entirely or send in to be repaired. At this price point, you are entering into the territory of custom-built keyboards, and that is a very dangerous place for a prebuilt to be in. My keyboard, which is a 65% custom-built with NextTime Blue Star Linear Mechanical Switches, cost me around the same amount of money to build as purchasing the wired version of the Apex Pro Mini and feels much better to use in my day-to-day operation.
On top of the fact that my custom-built keyboard put as much of a dent in my wallet as the Apex Pro Mini would, I can also individually replace any switch that is faulty, meaning that rather than having to replace the entire unit or send the whole keyboard in for manufacturing, you can instead spend less than a minute taking out the faulty switch and replacing it. I understand that custom-building a keyboard isn’t for everyone, but when prices for a prebuilt are this exorbitant, it’s hard to not compare the two sides of the keyboard industry.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini is a great little keyboard that really goes to show that it isn’t size that matters, but rather how you use it. The OmniPoint 2.0 switches offer a unique typing and gaming experience that the competition can’t really offer. The ability to custom tune your actuation points, as well as SteelSeries’ ability to add features via updates like the new Rapid Trigger feature, makes this keyboard incredibly enticing. However, at a price point of at least $399, I find it very hard to recommend this keyboard for anyone who isn’t using it for competitive gaming as you can get quite a nice custom keyboard for that price point which will go a lot further in the long run.
Review unit supplied by manufacturer