SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB Gaming keyboard: Best under $50?

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SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB Gaming keyboard: Best under $50?

Welcome back to Techspin, and we’re taking a quick look at the SteelSeries Apex 3. It’s a membrane gaming keyboard with customizable RGB zones, software and media controls with IP32 water resistant built-in, and it’s going for $50, maybe on sale for less. At this price we’re figuring that this either may have cut some corners or possibly not live up to the brand? Or will this be high-performance enough for gaming?

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Quick Summary: SteelSeries Apex 3

The SteelSeries Apex 3 surprised us with good build quality, the non-removable quiet membrane keys are rated for 20 million presses, weirdly with a flipped key marking design, but it’s sturdy with just a little flex. The grippy feeling key plastic is matched on the wrist-rest and body, but this material attracts fingerprints. The backing has three channels for cable routing, the 10-zone customizable RGB illumination looks bright and is well done, and it performs well for gaming, and with IP32 it should protect against some accidental spills.

It’s lightweight, but you need 8 rubber feet on the wrist-rest to keep it still- the keyboard only has 3 small feet at the front, and slides on a clean desk. The magnetic wrist-rest holds well flat, a little bit less when the legs are extended. Some padding would have been appreciated on this, though the inclusion at this price point is good. The 4 LEDs up here (Caps/Num Lock and more) are barely visible at this angle, but laid flat, you’re not going to see them at all. This budget friendly keyboard has a lot going for it, so the question is, do quiet membrane keys match your needs.

Steelseries-Apex-3-02

SteelSeries Apex 3 Features & Specs

The SteelSeries Apex 3 is a full-size keyboard with 10 zones of RGB, and there’s a TKL or ten-keyless version with 8 RGB zones which sometimes goes for a little cheaper. This full-size is usually $50 dollars in the US, $77 in Canada, 45 pounds in the UK, 65 euros, and almost 1900NT here in Taiwan.

SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB Gaming keyboard
US $50 ($40) CA $77 ($67)
UK £45 AU $120
NL €64,99 SG S$110
SA SAR224.4 AE AED263
PL PLN 340 SE 693kr
IN ₹4,999 JP ¥13,000
TWD $1890

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Steelseries-Apex-3-01

This is the entry-level model in the series, which goes up to the top-of-the-line Apex Pro, which costs about 3 times as much. It’s obviously a more basic offering, but don’t count the APEX 3 out so fast- it’s got whisper quiet tactile & silent membrane keys at a pretty reasonable price. And key markings vary by region, our Taiwanese version has extra symbols.

The Steelseries Apex 3 is 44.5 centimeters wide, by 15.2 high, 22.2 centimeters with the wrist-rest attached. It’s 3.8 centimeters deep with the legs retracted, and 5.1 centimeters deep with them extended. By itself the keyboard is 816 grams, and the wrist support adds an extra 192, but importantly the grip and magnets on it help keep the keyboard in place during gaming. And for flex, it sounds like this (flex test done in video)

SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB Gaming
44.5cm / 17.52″ wide
15.2-22.2cm / 6″-8.75” high (rest)
3.8-5.1cm / 1.5″-2” deep (legs)
816g-1.01kg / 1.8-2.22lbs (w/rest)

SteelSeries Apex 3 Design, Functions

The main housing has a slight gloss to the plastic, while the keys and wrist rest have a more grippy matte finish. The wrist support attracts fingerprints and smudges like crazy, but the double-shot keycaps seem to resist it a little better. The RGB through them and surrounding the keys is nice and bright. Steelseries is using their own whisper quiet keys which are heavier duty membrane dome switches and not mechanical, with a 20 million press rating. The weird flipped markings cost time when I was tired and try to look at the keys. But, very little wobble, no pre-travel, with a nice and firm tactile feeling, even with large keys like the spacebar. typing test

Steelseries-Apex-3-04

For media key control, there’s a volume roller and mute when you press the roller down. The multi-function button play/pauses pressed once, double press goes forward or next track, and three presses goes back or previous track. In use it works… okay, but I definitely would have preferred three dedicated keys, as I wasn’t a fan of the triple press. The Steelseries key allows you to switch profiles with F9, record a macro on the fly with F10, and change RGB brightness with F11 and F12, and there are six macro keys on the Insert to Page Down group. And again we mentioned the 4 LEDs up top here, which in use, they’re okay. You can kind of see it on camera here as it goes off and on, just barely above the Num Lock key, but you won’t be able to see them when using it on your desk.

Below the keycaps is a white underplate that diffuses the RGB illumination, and protects the Whisper Quiet switches, giving the SteelSeries Apex 3 its IP32 rating, which protects against liquid drops falling vertically onto it without issue. The keycaps are proprietary and cannot be removed or replaced according to the website. We tried removing one, it’s possible but it’s a bit challenging to reattach. And the non-detachable 1.8 meter cable is thick rubber and uses a USB Type-A connector, and it can route through 3 guide channels, nice inclusion at this price point.

SteelSeries Engine 3 Software Control

The Steelseries Apex 3 uses their Engine 3 software for Windows and MacOs, and luckily you aren’t required to register to start using it. It’s fairly simple and intuitive to select your device and start configuring. With preview enabled, you can adjust 10-zones of RGB with immediate visual feedback, and there’s apps like PrismSync, Discord and Audio Visualizer, and some games can give in-game RGB feedback. And default polling rate is 1000, you can lower this to 500, 250 or 125 times a second.

Steelseries-Apex-3-05

Unfortunately it doesn’t come with onboard memory for storing profiles or macros. Steelseries invites you to use their Cloudsync, requiring you to have an account, bring or memorize your password, and of course you’ll need their Engine software to be downloaded and installed on a guest computer and login if you want to use your settings. If you are mobile or play in tournaments, you’ll need to consider if this amount of work is okay for you, or consider an alternative with onboard memory.

And about the Build Quality

Because of the low cost, you could assume the SteelSeries Apex 3 could be flimsy or poorly manufactured. But it’s pretty solid, the plastic frame gives surprisingly minimal flex, with no creaking or groaning. The feet feel solid and snap into place when adjusting the height, and extended, they hold better in place on your desktop. The wrist rest really provides the traction you need, though with the feet out, the magnetic hold is weaker.

SteelSeries Apex 3 – Good Value

For $50 bucks US or less, it’s cheap, but the SteelSeries Apex 3 delivers a lot. Its water resistance, quiet keys, customizable RGB, wrist rest and software integration is a pretty good bundle. The construction is solid and the typing experience is snappy and comfortable, and it has easily customizable RGB, media keys and macro functionality plus user-friendly software integration.

For features, this is a great package, so if you’re looking to upgrade that non-RGB gear you’ve been spilling soda on since 2015, this may be the choice for you… how does it fare against Mountain Dew spills, though? This is probably a perfect keyboard for a messy gamer or younger sibling, or even in the office as it’s quiet, cheap, and performs well.

We liked the cable routing and the tactile key feel, which is responsive. As we often use gel wrist rests in the studio, the included wrist rest here is noticeably harder, so if you need comfort you may need to swap it out in the future. The keyboard is lightweight, but more rubber feet on the front of the keyboard, or back, would help it stay put, especially without the wrist-rest. And the reversed key markings cost us more keystrokes late-night.

Steelseries-Apex-3-03

A few things could be better

Ok, onto what could use improvement. This keyboard is not meant for gaming on the go, as there’s no onboard memory. Yes, there’s a workaround with installing software and logging in, but it’s not connect and go. The media key isn’t intuitive, no legend beside it, behind it, only in the included manual or online version. The three presses to go back is a bit odd, and we didn’t find any way to configure this button in software.

In testing RGB, the transition between certain color combos can look a bit weird, more like colors in a popsicle or freezie, instead of a seamless color transition. Finally it has a one year warranty, although we noted a bunch of customer service reviews online where they had problems getting a reply or service. Hopefully SteelSeries can improve in this area, and if you’re lucky you may have some coverage or help in this area by purchasing through a large retailer.

If you want an RGB keyboard that’s solid and don’t need top-of-the-line, you can’t do much better than the APEX 3 especially at sale prices. If you pick one up, shopping through our affiliate links will help us here with no extra cost to you. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at techspinreview.

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Rick Novlesky

Rick balances his work for Techspin writing, shooting and production with equal parts of sleep deprivation and coffee intake.