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?
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.
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.