Rosewill’s Apollo RK-9100xBBR mechanical keyboard reviewed

Over the past couple of years, Rosewill has made a name for itself as a purveyor of affordable mechanical keyboards. Members of the company’s RK-9000 series are among the most inexpensive vessels for Cherry’s MX mechanical key switches, with prices ranging as low as $70. They’re quite solid, and we’ve been recommending them time and time again in our System Guides.

These days, Rosewill is also establishing a presence in the realm of premium mechanical keyboards. The company may not have the cachet of, say, Corsair or Razer, but some of its new high-end keyboards are priced right alongside offerings from those companies. Today, we’re going to look at the Apollo RK-9100xBBR, a fully featured gaming keyboard that currently sells for $119.99 at Newegg.

The Apollo has all the bells and whistles one would expect from a high-end gaming keyboard: n-key rollover, adjustable LED backlighting, macro functionality, a built-in USB hub, optional “gaming” key caps, and a detachable wrist rest. Rosewill offers this keyboard with a choice of Cherry MX brown and blue switches. (The blues have stiffer springs and an audible click in their actuation curve.) Also, you can get either blue- or red-backlit versions of the Apollo, depending on whether you’re into the whole death metal look or not.

On paper, then, the Apollo looks potentially as good as any premium gaming keyboard out there. Does it work out that way in practice, or should clicky-keyboard fans with deep pockets look elsewhere?

The ergonomics

I’ve been using the Apollo as my daily driver for several weeks now, and I don’t intend to switch back after this review is published. Going in, I expected an overall feel similar to that of the RK-9000BR, which also has Cherry MX brown switches, but the Apollo turned out to be different. Its key caps are a little taller and deeper, and it’s less angled toward the back. Bottoming out keys feels crisper, somehow, and the nice, soft-touch plastic on the frame definitely doesn’t hurt.

All in all, the Apollo is just more comfortable—and satisfying—to use than the RK-9000BR, be it for long writing sessions or long gaming ones. It just feels plain great to use.

Typing comfort can be further improved with the bundled wrist rest, which clips into notches in the bottom edge of the keyboard. The point of all wrist rests, obviously, is to keep the user’s wrists flat and thereby to prevent RSI. This one does the job fairly well, especially since it has the same soft-touch coating as the keyboard’s frame. There is one little issue, though: the thing bows up in the middle.

You see, there are three rubber feet along the wrist rest’s front edge. When my fingers are arranged along the home row, the weight of my right hand flattens the wrist rest and makes the middle foot set down on my desk. When I lay off, the wrist rest bows up again, and the middle foot hovers a few millimeters up. All that bowing and flattening, the rubber foot coming down and springing up again, gets annoying quickly.

I tried to take care of the problem by heating up the wrist rest (which is just a hunk of molded plastic) with a hairdryer and gently bending it into shape. It almost worked, too, until I got a little overzealous and wound up cracking the thing. Oops. If I got a do-over, I’d probably just stick a few layers of electrical tape under the middle rubber pad. That ought to do a good enough job.

The issue of unruly wrist rests isn’t exclusive to Rosewill, by the way. Geoff encountered a similar problem with the wrist rest on Corsair’s Vengeance K70 keyboard. The K70 is even more expensive than the Apollo, at $129.99. Considering the obvious ergonomic benefits, it’d be nice if wrist rests for such pricey keyboards didn’t feel like afterthoughts.

The bells and whistles

Typing comfort is a must for any keyboard—but in the world of gaming peripherals, that’s just one part of the overall picture. The Apollo attempts to woo gamers and enthusiasts with a number of other features.

For starters, there’s a USB and audio hub built at the back of the keyboard, just behind the lock LEDs. The USB portion of this hub isn’t SuperSpeed-enabled, so external drives can only push data through it at USB 2.0 speeds. That’s plenty for thumb drives and other peripherals, though. For example, I stuck the wireless receiver for my Logitech G700 mouse in there. No need to worry about interference when the mouse and receiver are literally inches apart, right?

In a pinch, the audio part of the hub can come in handy for plugging in a gaming headset. I tried it with my Sennheiser HD 595 headphones, and since I didn’t notice any added hiss or interference, I assume the shielding must be quite good. It should certainly be adequate for the average gaming headset—though a lot of those just have USB connectors and integrated DACs nowadays.

Here’s the Apollo’s backlighting in action. The light show is enabled by simple multicolored LEDs that sit beneath each key cap, just behind the key switch. Because of the position of those LEDs, by the way, symbol markings are at the top of the Apollo’s key caps, even on punctuation and number keys. It looks a little unusual, but it’s easy enough to figure out.

The Apollo has four backlighting modes: bright, brighter, brightest, and a pulsating mode that makes the LEDs throb gently and continuously. One can also disable the backlighting altogether, which is what I wound up doing. I don’t mind having a nice blue glow under my fingers, but I don’t really need one, either, since I touch type.

To adjust the backlighting, one simply presses the Fn key (which stands in place of the right Windows key) along with the up and down arrows on the numpad. Unfortunately, this adjustment has no effect on the lock LEDs at the top right of the keyboard. Those LEDs stand out nicely when the entire keyboard is aglow, but they’re much too bright with the backlighting disabled. That’s easy enough to fix, though; I put a guitar pick over the numlock LED. The pick doesn’t slide around much, because that part of the keyboard is textured and finished with the same soft-touch plastic as the rest of the frame.

 

The bells and whistles—continued

On the Apollo, the F keys conveniently double as media and macro profile keys—but without compromising the default behavior. One must hold the Fn key to activate any of the media or macro functions; otherwise, the F keys just do their usual job. That’s a nice reversal from what happens on a lot of cheap rubber-dome keyboards, where the F keys are totally hijacked by random media features and shortcuts.

The Apollo’s media functions aren’t as conveniently positioned as they could be, though. The one I use the most, play/pause, is activated by hitting Fn+F4, which is a fairly awkward gesture. (Again, the Fn key sits to the right of the space bar.) This is a situation where a handful of small, dedicated media buttons might have been more appropriate.

Which brings us to the Apollo’s macro functionality. This keyboard has 128KB of built-in memory. According to Rosewill, that’s enough to store five different macro profiles with up to 10 macros each.

Macros must be set through the included software, which doesn’t look like much but, happily, works well enough. You simply choose one of the five profiles (via the tabs at the top of the window), select one of the profile’s 10 macros at the bottom, and then bind the macro to a key on the keyboard. Macros can be basic operations, like cut, paste, or save, or they can conjure up recorded keystroke sequences. The recording feature even lets you adjust the delays between individual key strokes.

Once set, macros can be called up if—and only if—the keyboard is in gaming mode. Enabling gaming mode involves hitting Fn and F12, which lights up the third lock LED, disables the Windows key, and activates all macros. Users can also switch between the five macro profiles by holding Fn and hitting F7, F8, F9, F10, or F11.

The macro functionality is all pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t upset the normal keyboard layout too much. The only victims are the right Windows key and the scroll lock indicator, which Rosewill replaced with the gaming mode indicator. Since nobody has used scroll lock since about 1991, I don’t think anyone will mind.

In another nod to gamers, the Apollo comes with orange key caps for the WASD and arrow key blocks. These aren’t curved or angled differently from the default keys, but they do have a very slightly rougher finish, which might help gamers with sweaty hands get a better grip. They don’t interfere with typing, anyhow, which is nice.

Last, but definitely not least, the Apollo has n-key rollover. Rosewill claims it can register up to 64 simultaneous key presses, which technically falls short of “n” but is still far more than most users need. I tested the rollover feature in Microsoft’s ghosting demo and couldn’t get the Apollo to ignore any key presses, even when mashing the keyboard with my palm.

Conclusions

In this price range, keyboard choice comes down largely to personal preference in matters of style, key response, and extras. Some might like the Apollo’s understated, no-nonsense look, or they may prefer the flashier design of something like Corsair’s Vengeance K70. Others yet might only spring for a $120 keyboard if it comes with a couple of rows of dedicated macro keys. Certain users may even rule out any keyboard that’s not available with Cherry MX red or black switches.

So, yeah, I can’t make that choice for you.

What I can say is that I don’t have any major quibbles with the Apollo. My only gripes are with the overly bright lock keys and the wonky wrist rest, but those aren’t deal breakers. The Apollo, at least in this incarnation, fulfills the most important criterion of all for me: being comfortable to type on all day. I’m particularly glad that Rosewill offers this keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches, which I think strike the best balance between typing and gaming comfort.

There may be better high-end mechanical gaming keyboards out there. But the Apollo is definitely a pretty darn good one.

Comments closed
    • Sierra
    • 6 years ago

    I just got my RK – 9100 -BBR and I’ve noticed it stays backlit in sleep mode and even when the comp is turned off. Is this normal or do I have a defective one? How do you make it shut itself off automatically?

    (Yes, I know how to turn the backlights off manually. I don’t want to do that every time my comp goes to sleep.)

    Thanks.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 6 years ago

    [quote=”Cyril”<] I tried to take care of the problem by heating up the wrist rest (which is just a hunk of molded plastic) with a hairdryer and gently bending it into shape. It almost worked, too, until I got a little overzealous and wound up cracking the thing. Oops! [/quote<] Here's the $20 solution to that problem: [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826998142[/url<]

    • Anovoca
    • 6 years ago

    As others have mentioned, this thing is a cheap rebrand. Here is the real deal and a keyboard that deserves some pub: [url<]http://www.maxkeyboard.com/max-keyboard-nighthawk-x8-blue-backlit-mechanical-keyboard.html[/url<] I've been using that board for a year and the quality is above and beyond anything I've ever seen or used on the market. Edit: The Rosewill is not a rebrand, Maxkeyboards say directly on their site that it is just a lookalike and uses none of the same parts as their keyboards.

      • robliz2Q
      • 6 years ago

      Thank’s for that link, it does look like a knock off.

      Will keyboards like this last a long time, like keyboards used to in the 80’s and early 90’s?

        • Anovoca
        • 6 years ago

        I can’t generalize and say all mechanical keyboards will last x amount of years; however, I will say that my MX keyboard is a year and a half old and I haven’t had a single issue with it, nor is there any paint wear on the wasd keys as I have had with other led keyboards in the past.

        The MX Nighthawk is handmade in the US (I believe though cannot confirm) and the board weights near 15 pounds. The thing is the maglight of keyboards. I haven’t used the Rosewill version or even seen it so I can’t attest to its quality, thought I have used other Rosewill products in the past and I will happily pay the $30 premium for the MX, if for no other reason than piece of mind that its not coming from the same company that produces $20 stamped tin pc cases.

          • just brew it!
          • 6 years ago

          Surely that’s a typo — the Nighthawk doesn’t really weigh 15 pounds?

          Anyhow… mechanically, a MX-based keyboard should last for many years, unless you spill something sticky in it. Both of my RK-9000s (one at home, one at work) are still going strong after more than 3 years.

          That said, it hasn’t been 100% smooth sailing…

          1. Rosewill went through a period of time a couple of years ago where there were QA issues with the solder joints between the switches and PCB, and on the USB connector of their RK-9000 keyboards. The solder joints would eventually crack, resulting in intermittent key operation (or dead USB port). I think they’ve gotten a handle on this issue; at least, the number of complaints about this type of failure seems to have fallen way off. My RK-9000s (purchased 3+ years ago) did not have this issue, but my son’s (purchased about 2 years ago) did.

          2. I managed to fry the controller in one of my RK-9000s last winter, with a particularly nasty static electricity zap. I was able to repair it by replacing the controller with a 3rd party one (the controller is socketed), and while I had it disassembled I also grounded the mounting plate to (hopefully) prevent a repeat.

          3. I damaged one of the stabilizer clips on the Enter key while installing a set of o-rings. If you’re planning to retrofit a keyboard with o-rings, do yourself a favor and order some extra stabilizer clips just in case.

      • MarkG509
      • 6 years ago

      When I first saw the pics in this article, I was thinking it was a rebrand of the XArmor U9BL-S.

        • Anovoca
        • 6 years ago

        jeeze, how many keyboards are there that use this shell. TR – there is your story.

          • bhtooefr
          • 6 years ago

          A lot of entry-level mechanical keyboards are rebrands of iOne keyboards, and some of the remaining boards (some of which aren’t entry-level) are built by iOne (the Razer BlackWidow comes to mind).

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      Confirmation bias confirmed.

      Don’t kid yourself…the vast majority of branded products out there are ‘OEM rebrands’, there are few truly original or unique products marketed in Western countries as evidenced by the posts below linking to the real OEM of this keyboard. It’s cool if you’re satisfied with your purchase, just don’t kid yourself about the source or try to act high and mighty about it. An OEM rebrand is and OEM rebrand.

    • psuedonymous
    • 6 years ago

    Every backlit Cherry MX keyboard I’ve seen has had the LEDs passing through the top of the switch leaving only the upper portion of the keycap illuminated. I wonder why no manufacturer has simply rotated the switch 180° to illuminate the lower portion of the keycap for the number row. It’s not like the keyswitches themselves are angled.

      • bhtooefr
      • 6 years ago

      In fact, the MX switches are already rotated 180 degrees for the backlit boards – the orientation you’re proposing is actually the normal orientation.

      The problem is that this isn’t the intended usage of the MX switch’s LED hole, really. It’s intended for in-key lock LED illumination, like this: [url<]http://www.goldfries.com/images/hwreviews/2012/duckydk9008g2/ducky6.jpg[/url<]

        • just brew it!
        • 6 years ago

        All the more strange that they don’t have them flipped around the other way for the top row, then.

          • superjawes
          • 6 years ago

          “We need a new price point for a mechanical keyboard. Make it happen.”
          -“Which way are the switches supposed to go?”
          “I don’t know. Just look up what someone else did.”
          -“Alright.”

          #engineering

      • spuppy
      • 6 years ago

      The KBParadise V60 Mini moves the LEDs to the bottom. Looks much better, but some light shines out the bottom edge of the caps.

    • blip2
    • 6 years ago

    Looks like a re-branded qpad mk-80 to me… good keyboard though and what I’m using right now.

      • cataphract
      • 6 years ago

      Me too. It looks exactly like my MK-80, except for the branding.

      My only complaints are that the wrist rest is difficult to attach and detach (I already broke one of the indentations) and the USB ports are not sufficiently apart to connect two devices if one of them is slightly larger than usual (e.g. most USB sticks).

      • anotherengineer
      • 6 years ago

      Or is it a re-branded ione?

      [url<]http://www.ione.com.tw/2009/Product/6A_SC-U9%20BL.asp[/url<] I think a thorough keyboard review would include a dis-assembly to check the 'real' manufacturer, PCB info, etc.

      • oldog
      • 6 years ago

      Yo. You got any burned out LEDs yet?

        • blip2
        • 6 years ago

        nope. my windows key was never particularly bright but otherwise all fine.

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