SteelSeries’ Apex M500 keyboard reviewed

In recent years, the mechanical keyboard market has been plagued by the principle of form over function. Quality, usability, and durability have been replaced by flashy RGB LEDs and stealth-fighter angles. Many recent mechanical keyboards have made this unfortunate comprise. Others strike a balance and feature the best of both worlds, but having it all can come with a hefty price tag. SteelSeries’ response is the Apex M500: an affordable keyboard that goes for understated quality while still offering a bit of bling.

The Apex M500 is built on a pretty standard black keyboard chassis made of thick, sturdy plastic. The keycaps also have a typical look and build, with no odd fonts or textured tops. Underneath the keycaps rest blue LEDs that together create a vibrant blue glow. Other than the LEDs, there isn’t anything visually remarkable about the Apex M500, and even the LEDs aren’t too attention-grabbing. It certainly possesses a more refined look than many other keyboards on the market. The look is also backed up by a durable build. I’ve used the Apex M500 for a number of months now, and it’s been incredibly dependable through it all.

The refined, conservative look of the Apex 500 mostly comes from the plastic lip that extends just above the bottom of the keycaps, hiding the switches from view. The other common chassis design, typical of Corsair keyboards, has no lip at all, which makes the keys look like they’re floating over the keyboard. The “floating keys” design both looks fancier and is easier to clean, but wouldn’t quite fit with the aesthetic of the Apex M500. Going with the norm here is a safe choice on the part of SteelSeries and shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people.

The top of the keyboard offers an additional level of utility. While holding down the Fn key, the F5 through F12 keys act as illumination, media, and audio controls. There are five different levels of true-blue illumination, including the off state. Media and audio controls have become a standard, in one form or another, on mechanical gaming keyboards recently. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to using these controls that I’m at a loss if I use a keyboard without them.

With a few keycaps removed, we can inspect the M500’s guts. Most Immediately noticeable are the brightly-molded Cherry MX Red switches jutting upward. The Apex M500 is available with either MX Red or MX Blue switches, but surprisingly not MX Browns, a popular choice among gamers who want the bump of Blues without the click. For those unfamiliar with the various Cherry switch types, refer to our switch guide.

Our test sample’s MX Red switches aren’t my favorite, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t of high quality. I tested the keyboard with a large number of games, but I’ve recently put a substantial number of hours into Titanfall 2. It has incredibly fast-paced gameplay and a high-speed movement system that requires large amounts of quick adjustments and actions from the keyboard. Such gameplay is quite demanding for a keyboard, but the Apex M500 kept up wonderfully. My movement and reactions felt crisp and snappy, with no hiccups, friction, or unexpected resistance from the switches or keycaps. My experience while typing was equally as positive, so the Apex M500 gets a big green checkmark in the functionality department.

Besides the switches, the LEDs are also nestled under the keycaps, resting comfortably within the tops of the switch housings. This is a slightly older design for backlit Cherry MX boards. Many keyboards now have clear switch housings with LEDs positioned underneath the housings. While the clear switch housings might be stylish, the black housings and exposed LEDs on the Apex M500 work fine. Just don’t expect as even a diffusion of light as more recent Cherry switches.

The final thing under the keycaps worth mentioning is the blue baseplate. It might help display a consistent blue glow across the keyboard, and it stays true to the subtle blue theme, but it’s important to note that even with the LEDs off, a slight bit of blue will be visible in the spaces between the keys. This minor blue accent might spoil the old-school look for some, but it’s hardly noticeable and isn’t overly flashy by a long shot.

The back of the board is riddled with grooves and indents, three of which are for cable management. The cable can be routed through the grooves to come out the back of the keyboard at the most optimal position. This isn’t a ground-breaking feature, but it’s a nice addition.

At opposite ends of the back of the keyboard sit two flip-up stands with single positions. These feet can be used to prop up the back of the keyboard for a bit of a slant, for those who want it. They aren’t super-heavy-duty, but they get the job done.

The last bit of the physical keyboard to cover is the cable. The Apex M500 doesn’t have any USB or audio pass-throughs. Such pass-throughs can be nice, but they usually require extra cables that can quickly contribute to a messy desk. The Apex M500 keeps it simple with a lone, rubber cable leading to a plain old USB connector.

Everything seems to have extra software to go with it these days, but thankfully the Apex M500 software is completely optional. Everything works perfectly fine without the software, including the illumination, media, and audio controls. However, for those who want a bit more customizability, the SteelSeries software is straightforward and easy to use. A little tutorial even pops up when the software is first opened to help users along, a welcome touch.

All the LEDs are blue, so there are no crazy lighting settings for the M500: just a choice between static and “breathing” modes. Oddly, though, the illumination setting inside the software only has four illumination levels while the illumination controls on the keyboard have five. The illumination controls on the keyboard itself seem to override those in the software when they’re used. That isn’t a huge problem in practice, but it’s a bit weird. The Key Customization area of the software offers a variety of options to play with, from macros to variable activation settings and timing. Overall, the software is quite solid. It’s simple, offers a number of options, and doesn’t get in the way.

Conclusions

SteelSeries is targeting a slightly different market with its Apex M500 than many other gaming keyboard manufacturers are right now. Functionality is the main focus of this keyboard, and it hits that mark spot-on. The chassis, keycaps, switches, and lighting all perform almost flawlessly.

Honestly, I don’t have many complaints about this keyboard. The only issue it seems to have is the clash between the software and on-board illumination controls, which isn’t much of a problem at all. I could criticize it for not quite keeping up with the new trends in gaming keyboards, but that’s part of the deal. It may be a bit old fashioned, but it comes with a $100 price tag to make up for it, which is actually fairly cheap for mechanical gaming keyboards. My only real complaint is that the M500 is only available with Cherry MX Red and MX Blue switches. Folks who want the tactile feel of MX Browns will have to look elsewhere.

Everything else about this board is rock-solid. It’s durable, simple, and reliable. In a world of $180 RGB keyboards covered with stealth-fighter accents and filled with enough processing power to land on the Moon, the clean-and-simple SteelSeries Apex M500 is a solid choice for gamers and typists alike who want a high-quality, mechanical keyboard without a load of bells and whistles. I’m giving this keyboard a TR Recommended award as a great option for those who prefer Red and Blue switches. Hopefully SteelSeries will release a version with Brown switches at some point in the near future.

Comments closed
    • spiritwalker2222
    • 3 years ago

    This is a timely review.

    I just bough the Steelseries Apex 100 and will be promptly returning it. There is no way to turn off the backlight. And the backlight is not only overly bright, but it also flickers once every second or two.

    All I want is a reasonable quality keyboard, that doesn’t scream I’m 10 years old. Thought I finally found one. Why doesn’t anybody make one. There seem to be some cordless keyboards similar to what I want, but I want corded.

    I’m half tempted to pull the keyboard apart and remove the diodes.

      • Chrispy_
      • 3 years ago

      [url=http://assets.coolermaster.com/global/uploadfile/fileproduct_list/P1507220003fc9e/PRDPIC/34_6e20b1be6cfd5b179fc9520eed5b5ac5_1450820006.jpg<]CoolerMaster QuickFire RAPID-i[/url<] Great quality, Reasonable price, Very minimalist styling with no logos, Thin, plain bezels, Backlight can be set to dim or entirely disabled. The only "styling" at all is that the font is squarer than most and that really only affects the letter 'A'

        • spiritwalker2222
        • 3 years ago

        But no keypad.

        I’m thinking the Corsair Gaming K70 LUX Mechanical Gaming Keyboard. With cherry brown keys. More than I want to pay, but it’s either that or a $15 keyboard.

        Now to find a store that has one in stock to try out.

          • Chrispy_
          • 3 years ago

          [url=http://www.coolermaster.com/peripheral/keyboards/quickfirext/<]QuickFire XT then[/url<]. It's a sober looking standard layout without backlighting [i<]at all.[/i<] I prefer tenkeyless because as a touch-typist the number pad is nothing but worthless duplicates that are nowhere near my fingers. However, if I was to want a full keyboard again I think I'd take the QuickFire XT Stealth over my previous Das Keyboard.

    • Froz
    • 3 years ago

    When I see a keyboard like this (without wrist pad and, typically for mechanics, extremely thick keyboard) I wonder how people manage to use it comfortably and not get health issues. I’m not that comfortable even with the wrist pad.

    It always seemed to me that in general the design of keyboards is wrong. The slope should be the other way around, with the highest point at the side closest to the user, and of course a wrist pad to match that height. That way hands would lay in a more natural way, without that extra pressure on wrists.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 3 years ago

      I have one of [url=http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/833448/IMAK-ergoBeads-Mouse-Support-575-Gray/<]these[/url<] for my mouse and a [url=http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/926483/IMAK-ergoBeads-Keyboard-Support-Gray/<]matching thingy[/url<] for my keyboard.

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 3 years ago

      My understanding is that you should never be resting your wrists on anything in the first place. Instead, your hands should instead be “floating” above the keyboard so that you can move your whole arm around as needed to hit various keys while also maintaining a neutral wrist position.

      Bona fides: I’m a carpal tunnel sufferer.

    • AMD64Blondie
    • 3 years ago

    What’s with all the black keyboards these days?

    White’s cool..or beige.

    (Rocking a 1991 IBM Model M PS/2 myself..)

    • just brew it!
    • 3 years ago

    Looks decent. If I was in the market for a new ‘board right now I’d consider it (with the blue switches).

    Anyone (hey, Nathan!) know whether this uses wire stabilizers for the large keys, or multiple plungers? I prefer the feel of wire stabilizers (smoother key action for the larger keys), even though they make keycap removal a little trickier.

      • Gyromancer
      • 2 years ago

      This is a late response, but there aren’t any wire stabilizers, just raw Cherry MX switches.

        • just brew it!
        • 2 years ago

        Too bad. That’s my main beef with Ducky (and why my Ducky is relegated to backup status). Wire stabilizers just feel better.

        (As far as the late response goes, better late than never!)

    • bfar
    • 3 years ago

    Refreshing change from all that LED gamer crap that’s proliferating these days. You could actually picture this being used outside of a teenager’s bedroom.

    I’d prefer if the logo was a little smaller, and a choice of brown switches, but otherwise very impressed.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 3 years ago

    It seems like a decent option if you like blue or red MX switches but for me it’s brown or bust.

      • EzioAs
      • 3 years ago

      [url<]https://youtu.be/KW339B0ABVA?t=26s[/url<]

      • Chrispy_
      • 3 years ago

      MX Brown > anything else

      • just brew it!
      • 3 years ago

      Not tactile enough for me.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 3 years ago

        I feel like they’re a decent mix of tactile and quiet. Blues are too loud for my office, and I’m a telecommuter who’s mostly home by himself all day.

          • just brew it!
          • 3 years ago

          The guy sitting diagonally opposite me at the office has a Model M. When he brought that in, and nobody complained, my worries about my RK-9000 (with o-rings) being too loud dissapeared. 😉

            • derFunkenstein
            • 3 years ago

            LOL I would go insane. But I’m the kind of person who cannot work with music on in the background because my grasp on focus is so tenuous, I start singing and stop doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.

    • Khali
    • 3 years ago

    Well now, I think I just found a replacement for my aging Black Widow keyboard. I was looking at Corsairs K70 LUX. But this one is $20 less expensive and offers the Blue switches that you can’t get on the K70 LUX.

    • Vaughn
    • 3 years ago

    I picked up the Logitech G810 during the Xmas break for $99 at bestbuy its a better keyboard than this.

      • Mr Bill
      • 3 years ago

      Same here, that G810 was a steal. 😉 I have the G710+ at work (which had so many failed caps but Rosewill was super nice and gave me a full set of key caps. I bought one of their LED MX brown keyboards for my lab by way of thanks.

    • Flying Fox
    • 3 years ago

    I’m actually looking at the Green’s these days to be closer to buckling springs.

      • DancinJack
      • 3 years ago

      They’re not as close as you think. They just don’t feel as good as buckling spring IMO.

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    I wish it was made of steel.

      • Inkling
      • 3 years ago

      …and it was one of a series.

    • tay
    • 3 years ago

    I like SteelSeries even though I think their products are slightly on the pricier side. To offset that, their warranty support is great.
    I would consider this keyboard if they had MX Brown and Tenkeyless.

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