As the world begins to wake up to the fact that professional eSports are legitimate and here to stay, the gaming keyboard market is becoming ever more saturated. Manufacturers are right to do so, but they oftentimes can’t seem to resist the allure of feature-creep. Every other keyboard has extra macro buttons, a foot-long wrist rest, and LED laser light-shows under each keys.
But while those manufacturers reach for the fanboys and girls at home who want to taste the glory of the eSports arena, SteelSeries is banking on the actual professionals.
Enter the Apex M500. A sleek, deceptively simple board constructed with professional gamers in mind. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the flashier gaming keyboards, and the most a used car salesman could point to would be the blue LED backlighting that can be made to "breathe".
What it does have are fast, reliable Cherry MX Red mechanical switches, smooth-topped keycaps to keep your fingers gliding from one to the next, and SteelSeries Engine 3 software that keeps macro recording and other controls stored neatly under the hood for when you need them. I’m tempted to call it the Volvo of gaming keyboards - it might not look like much on the outside, but if you treat it right it’ll last for years and years.
Sturdy design, no frills
Now I haven't yet been able to spend years typing on the M500, but nevertheless I’m confident it’s got staying power. This thing just feels durable. The plastic case has a classic matte-black finish, and its edges and corners are nicely beveled to prevent you from stabbing your teammate’s eye out while celebrating a big win in League of Legends.
Though it isn’t obvious on first sight, you can feel the heft of the steel backplate when you pick it up. It won’t matter how hard you crack it over your opponent’s skull after a devastating loss, the M500 won't be breaking in half any time soon. The underside also features four wide, grippy rubber feet that get the job done, and a clever three-pronged cable-management system to direct the USB cord wherever it needs to go. The cord itself is a 5-footer, making it simple enough to navigate a tournament’s crowded desktop environment.
While the M500 isn’t upfront in showing off its features, they are formidable for the dedicated gamer who knows what they want. You can control the blue backlight’s brightness using the function keys, but to go deeper you’ll have to install SteelSeries Engine 3. It’s an unobtrusive piece of software that makes futzing with LED settings, reassigning keys, and recording macros a relatively painless process. For example, while it’s easy enough to use the media controls by holding down the SteelSeries logo key and pressing the appropriate Function key, I made it easier on myself by reassigning the media controls to those Function keys directly, along with the pre-loaded screen-capture shortcut.
The Apex M500 isn’t for the lifestyle gamer whose RAM has huge fins and whose motherboard has a camo pattern. It’s for professionals who value efficiency, performance, and a classic look. While some of those extra features not found here can be nice, it’s hard to fault SteelSeries for hitting their goal of making a simple, durable keyboard that would look equally good on a tournament table or a home office desk.