Capsule Review: SteelSeries Apex M500 Gaming Mechanical Keyboardby E. Fylladitakis on June 10, 2016 10:00 AM EST
The SteelSeries Engine software that can be used to access the advanced features of the Apex M500 is very simple, quick and well compiled. There is only one main screen, from which the user can adjust basic illumination settings and the polling rate of the keyboard, launch the macro programmer, the configurations manager or select any of the keys for reprogramming. The illumination options are limited to brightness level controls and a single (breathe) effect.
If any of the keys is selected, a configuration menu pops up and allows the reprogramming of the key. There is a wealth of options here, allowing the user to perform simple layout changes, use advanced media/mouse/OS shortcuts, launch macros or launch external applications. After the action has been selected, the user can also add repeat options with programmed intervals and reiterations. The option of selecting whether the action will be performed on the key press or release is also offered.
The Macro Editor allows the programming of either keypress or text macros. Text macros, as the name suggests, merely insert a piece of text once used. This function is useful in gaming for the quick sending of short or long repetitive team/guild messages. Keypress macros are a little more complex, allowing the user to program a sequence of keystrokes with programmed or no delays between them. Once the macro has been programmed, the delays or the keystrokes can be manually edited. Unfortunately, the macro recorder is still very basic, as the user cannot insert any mouse movement functions, or even mouse button presses. It registers only key presses coming from the keyboard itself, which is very limiting for a gaming product.
The configuration editor allows the programming of a practically infinite number of profiles. Each profile can be linked to automatically start alongside one or more applications/games. Since the Apex M500 has no extra keys for the manual switching of profiles, this feature is a necessity.
In order to test the quality and consistency of a keyboard, we are using a texture analyser that is programmed to measure and display the actuation force of the standard keyboard keys. By measuring the actuation force of every key, the quality and consistency of the keyboard can be quantified. It can also reveal design issues, such as the larger keys being far softer to press than the main keys of the keyboard. The actuation force is measured in Centinewton (cN). Some companies use another figure, gram-force (gf). The conversion formula is 1 cN = 1.02 gf (i.e. they are about the same). A high quality keyboard should be as consistent as possible, with an average actuation force as near to the manufacturer's specs as possible and a disparity of less than ±10%. Greater differences are likely to be perceptible by users. It is worth noting that there is typically variance among keyboards, although most keyboard companies will try and maintain consistency - as with other reviews, we're testing our sample only.
The machine we use for our testing is accurate enough to provide readings with a resolution of 0.1 cN. For wider keys (e.g. Enter, Space Bar, etc.), the measurement is taking place at the center of the key, right above the switch. Note that large keys generally have a lower actuation force even if the actuation point is at the dead center of the key. This is natural, as the size and weight of the keycap reduces the required actuation force. For this reason, we do display the force required to actuate every key but we only use the results of the typical sized keys for our consistency calculations. Still, very low figures on medium sized keys, such as the Shift and Enter keys reveal design issues and can easily be perceptible by the user.
As expected, the performance of Cherry’s MX Red switches is outstanding. The average actuation force is at 45 cN, equal to the exact specification of the particular switch, while the disparity over the main keys is just ± 3.19%, a figure that is definitely imperceptible by human touch. Even the Space Bar, a key that is usually giving reading far out of spec due to its size, has an actuation force close to that of the rest of the keys. In short, the keys of the Apex M500 are exceptionally consistent and of the highest quality currently available.