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SteelSeries is back again with a pair of new gaming keyboards that provide some unique features in two of the most popular form factors among gamers. The larger Apex 9 TKL is, as its name would suggest, a TKL-sized board, while the Apex 9 Mini is a 60% unit. Both devices sport SteelSeries new OptiPoint optical switches, which rely on tiny beams of light to trigger their actuation.
These switches are at the heart of what makes these boards unique: a two-point actuation system. While typists prefer a deeper actuation to prevent accidental keypresses, gamers tend to want their actuation point higher for more responsive controls. Previously, the best you could do in a do-it-all board was to find a middle-ground between typo-induing shallow actuation and slower deep actuation. Now, SteelSeries OptiPoint switches promise to allow users to swap between the ideal depth for both scenarios.
The combination of adjustable actuation points and some surprisingly satisfying features on these boards has created an intriguing pair of options for those needing a keyboard to help them get their work done and then get down to the real business of gaming. Let's go over some of those unique features, and what makes both of these boards standout entries.
OptiPoint linear optical switches
1.0mm or 1.5mm
Onboard profile storage
USB-C to USB-A cable
Plastic and aluminum
TKL or 60%
It's no secret that the mechanical gaming keyboard market is flooded. To stand out, manufacturers tend to include at least one or two unique features that will elevate their boards above the rest. In this section, we'll go over what those standout features are for both of these boards.
Since the only real differences between the two sizes are the extra keys on the Apex 9 TKL model, and its inclusion of a volume roller, essentially everything said here can be applied to both the Apex 9 Mini and TKL.
OptiPoint optical switches
Both boards use SteelSeries OptiPoint optical switches, the Linear version, specifically. These feel like many other linear mechanical switches I've used, including Cherry MX Reds or Silvers. However, instead of using metal contacts, they use tiny beams of light that, when interrupted, trigger a keypress. This reduces the potential wear caused by physical contact and provides response times that are as fast as any modern hardware can offer. I'll explain more below about how these switches perform.
Double Shot PBT Keycaps
I've explained both "double shot" keycaps and PBT plastic in my primer on mechanical keyboards, but I'll quickly say this refers, respectively, to the two-layer technique used to build the keys and the rougher-feeling plastic they're made of. The former guarantees the legends will never wear off, while the latter provides a nicely grippy typing surface that resists the unpleasant shine many keyboards eventually develop from finger oils and wear.
These caps are on the thin side for double shot PBT, but still provide that pleasantly rough surface PBT is known for.
The RGB on both boards is richly saturated and subtle, while still being bright enough to see in well-lit rooms. The side-printed legends on the keycaps aren't very easy to make out in dimmer situations, however.
SteelSeries put in a few little extras that I really appreciated. Things like the smooth-rolling, yet compact volume controls on the TKL model, the dual-height adjustable feet, and the hidden keycap puller tool (shown above). All show bits of extra effort that endeared these boards to me just as much as their novel switches did.
As mentioned above, both boards include SteelSeries' OptiPoint switches. While these optical switches provide the usual benefits of light-based actuation, they also include two different actuation depths. This "2 Point Actuation" feature is what really makes these boards shine.
The full travel depth of the included OptiPoint linears already feels shorter than most full-height switches. Additionally, the actuation point can be raised as high as 0.5mm from its resting position. This provides one of the most immediate-feeling keyboard inputs I've ever experienced. Skill actuations in League of Legends feel more instant, and strafing in any FPS feels more responsive. Is it a massive difference? No. But, in games where milliseconds decide whether you live or die, it takes very little to tip the scales.
Of course, there have been switches with short actuation distances before. Unfortunately, the accidental presses they usually induce tend to be hell on typing accuracy. That's where the 2 Point Actuation's second setting comes in. When set to 1.5mm actuation depth, these switches are as accurate as any I use in my own daily driver boards and provided no notable error increases.
Keyboards live or die on their gaming and typing performance. Both of these models excel at either task thanks to the OptiPoint switches. The Apex 9 boards provide some of the most responsive gaming and optimally accurate typing I've experienced.
Gaming peripherals are all about giving you an edge over your opponent, whether it's a faster polling rate on your mouse, faster refresh rate on your monitor, or higher framerate from your GPU. We often ignore keyboards in this equation. SteelSeries is making a solid case here for why we shouldn't.
These boards won't turn your average noob into a pro gamer. But, they can provide those with even a bare modicum of skill that extra edge by shaving off a few, vitally-important milliseconds for each key press. Better yet, they can do it without forcing you to hand in an essay full of typos because you sacrificed actuation depth for accuracy.
Razer was among the first companies to integrate optical switches into their boards and the Huntsman Mini is one of the most popular 60% gaming keyboards, in general. It doesn't include customizable actuation depths or a replaceable cable, but it's cheaper than either SteelSeries entry if you're on a budget.
Despite the K65 name, the Corsair K65 Mini is actually a 60% board. It's great for those that like no-holds-barred gamer aesthetics. It's also an option for anyone preferring hyper-fast gaming switches that would rather stick with traditional (Cherry MX Speed) mechanicals.
If you want faster switches, low-profile might be the way to go thanks to its shorter travel distance. The Logitech G915 TKL Lightspeed is one of the most fully-loaded, low-profile, wireless gaming keyboards around. Of course, don't expect all of those features to come cheap...