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SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini keyboard review: A small but mighty gaming tool

This customizable, adjustable TKL gaming keyboard checks all our great-keyboard-for-gamers boxes and comes in wired and wireless options.
rebecca-isaacs
Written by Rebecca Isaacs, Staff Writer on
Pros
  • 2.0 omnipoint adjustable switches
  • Adjustable per-key RGB backlight
  • Dual-action programmable keys
Cons
  • Price
  • No magnetic wrist rest

I've always held an ambivalence toward mechanical gaming keyboards. They come in many different key switch options which can feel overwhelming. But I recently got to test SteelSeries' latest release, the Apex Pro Mini and Apex Pro Mini wireless keyboard. Like its full-size sibling, the Apex Pro, the Pro Mini uses specialized adjustable 2.0 omnipoint hybrid switches to adjust the keys to your actuation preference, so all the key switch options are packaged into one small keyboard. This in addition to the new small 60% aluminum frame design have made me a gaming keyboard convert. 

I tested the Apex Pro Mini wired and wireless keyboards for about 20 hours, and I found that while the small, compact design may not be the best for those with musculoskeletal issues, the smooth typing and gaming experience make these keyboards great gaming tools.

Also: Mechanical keyboards: A comprehensive guide

Specifications

Apex Mini Pro wired

Apex Mini Pro wireless

Dimensions

293x103x40mm

293x103x40mm

Weight

610g

543g

Keyboard size

6161

Key switch

2.0 Omnipoint adjustable switches

2.0 Omnipoint adjustable switches

Keyboard material

Aluminum

Aluminum

connection

USB-A to USB-C wired

wired/2.4GHz/Bluetooth extension adapter

Color

Black

Black

RGB

Per-key

Per-key


Design

The aluminum-frame keyboard operates with SteelSeries' traditional, fade-proof, programmable per-key RGB backlight design, enabling me to look down and see the keys clearly while typing or gaming. The Apex Mini slimmed the design while retaining a 60% form factor. It takes up much less space compared to a traditional keyboard with the tenkey build, so it's perfect for those who want to maximize space while having the traditional tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard.

SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wireless keyboard

The keyboard isn't much larger than my Google Pixel 6 Pro phone.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNet

I tested both the wired and wireless options. The wired option comes with a long USB-C to USB-A cable for connecting to a desktop or a laptop. Because I use the MSI GS66 Stealth, I don't need the entire cable length, and I found the wireless model saved me from another cord tangled among other cables. If you don't want to worry about charging, the wired option provides plenty of cordages to connect to a desktop with ease. However, if you loathe cables, then the wireless option excels at keeping your desk cable-free.

SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wired keyboard

The wired keyboard comes with a plug-and-play feature, but you will need to install critical updates when you first use it.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNet

The only design beef I have is that I can feel the ligaments strain on the outside of my wrist when typing because it's not a split keyboard. At the same time, SteelSeries designed this keyboard for gaming performance and not long hours typing novels. For traditional keyboard and mouse gaming, users can and will enjoy the small design. For those that need ergonomics or for those who may have musculoskeletal issues like myself, you should probably consider another, more ergonomic SteelSeries keyboard or even a split gaming keyboard.

Underneath the frame itself, SteelSeries included a keycap puller. The wireless version separates the dongle and the keycap puller, so you will find it in the packaging instead of underneath the keyboard. If you need to clean a key or swap keys for a set you prefer, I found that including this tool made it easy to complete these tasks.

Also: The best ergonomic keyboards

Performance

When I first started using the Apex Mini, the one factor I noticed was how smooth pressing each key felt. My parents had an electric typewriter with those signature clicking keys when I was a kid. Typing with this keyboard felt reminiscent of my childhood – the clicking keys not only reminded me of my playful typewriter days but also delivered a smoother, easier typing experience. 

For those who prefer more resistance to their keys, the actuation can be adjusted using the SteelSeries function key plus the "I" or "O" on the keyboard. In checking the features, it takes two seconds to adjust an entire keyboard's resistance functions. Again, those with musculoskeletal issues will likely enjoy that it comes programmed for the lighter .2mm actuation response; those who desire the resistance will enjoy its easy adjustment.  

SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wired keyboard

The per-key RBG keys can be adjusted at the press of a button.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNet

While writing, I shift around a lot on the keyboard and use my control functions and arrow keys to hop around and edit as needed. The downsized Apex Mini Pro altered the arrow keys so that you need to use the SteelSeries key and the control button to use the arrow keys, now discreetly tucked under the "W-A-S-D" keys. 

While it makes sense when downsizing to shift these keys to this location, as a regular typist, this shift bothered me and hindered my typing. However, this entire review was written with this keyboard with this minor hindrance. Once you get used to this change, it becomes less noticeable.

I tested the Apex Mini wired and wireless keyboards on two different games: Death Stranding and It Takes Two. When I pressed the 2.0 omnipoint switches, the key switches responded instantaneously. I didn't have to worry about my gaming lagging or buffering as Sam scaled cliffs or when May worked with Cody to defeat the Tool Box. This real-life response time felt in line with the 0.54ms response time SteelSeries promised with this keyboard. When I tested the wireless option against these same games, I worried that I might experience cutouts or lagging since it connects via Bluetooth 5.0 or a 2.4GHz network with a dongle. I didn't need to worry -- the wireless option performed as speedily and flawlessly as its wired sibling.

The keyboard also comes with dual-action programming, so I could reprogram keys to make Sam walk if I half-pressed the "W" key, or run if I pushed all the way down in Death Stranding. SteelSeries offers these options through its signature SteelSeries GG Engine software. If you haven't used this software already, you'll need to download it from the SteelSeries site.

SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wired keyboard

Add your own keys with the key capper tucked underneath the wired version. The key capper doesn't store underneath the keyboard in the wireless version.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNet

Additionally, the keyboard can program up to five different preferences for customization so you can program one keyboard function for League of Legends while still retaining preferred settings for Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. To swap between them involves pressing the SteelSeries function key plus "Z." I played around with this feature and found it was mostly functional for swapping between dedicated keyboard game settings or even different family members who may share the same computer. Like the dual-action programming, you'll need to adjust these settings in the GG Engine programming, and it's in this software that you can alter configurations, actuation/dual actuation, and even meta bindings. 

Battery life

When you're in the midst of a heavy game, having a great battery life is essential. The wireless version of this keyboard promises up to 40 hours of battery life. In order to see your battery life, you will need to download the SteelSeries GG software from the company website, where you can see on the main dashboard how much battery life is left. I swapped between my work-authorized laptop and my MSI during testing, and because I didn't have access to SteelSeries GG on my work laptop, I could not see how much battery life I had after a couple hours' use.

SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wireless keyboard

Control the connection via a Bluetooth 5.0 or a 2.4GHz switch.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNet

The keyboard goes into a sleep mode to preserve more battery life when it's not in use. This helped to extend the battery life. SteelSeries stated that the wireless option will last for up to 40 hours on a single charge. After one gaming session where I used the keyboard for two hours, the wireless battery life went down to 55% from 60%, so I was impressed by that. 

But the keyboard takes much longer to charge than expected. Initially, I plugged the keyboard into my laptop via a USB-C to USB-A cable. The SteelSeries software told me that it was up to 70% battery life after a 10-minute charge. When I removed the keyboard from the charging cable, it still registered at 60%, which told me that when charging the percentages do not accurately reflect how much life is left if you're in a pinch for battery life. I left it plugged in, and it took a little over an hour to charge. For longer use, you also can turn it off using a switch located on the back of the keyboard -- a great feature for those with cats that like to walk across keyboards.

Price

At $179.99, the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wired is a little steep, especially considering that the Apex Pro retails for $199.99 and comes with an accompanying detachable magnetic wrist rest. If you prefer the wireless option, it costs $239. I would have liked to have seen a magnetic wrist rest for gamers' comfort added to this package, but SteelSeries didn't add one. Hopefully, we'll see one designed for the Mini release soon here.

Bottom line

The SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini wired and wireless gaming keyboards are a great tool for those that want a dedicated small gaming keyboard. If you're a gamer that wants customizability in your key switches, or aren't sure what kind of key switch you want, this keyboard will help you adjust and decide what resistance level you prefer in your switches. It also functions well for those that require a space saving setup, such as in an apartment, or those that don't want a large clunky keyboard on their desk. Users that want a wireless keyboard will enjoy the wireless Apex Pro Mini wireless version, but those that prefer not to stress about how much battery life is left will be better suited to the wired option. If this keyboard doesn't feel like it's the best fit for you, be sure to check out our alternatives to consider below.

Alternatives to consider

If you're not feeling the small size of the Apex Mini, opt for its larger sibling, the Apex Pro, which comes with the same omnipresent switches in a traditional size keyboard. You also get a specialized OLED Smart Display, where you can adjust profiles and get real-time information during your gaming. For those who require a more ergonomic setup, this keyboard provides a detachable magnetic wrist rest.

Ergonomics and mechanical keyboards officially combine their powers in this split TKL mechanical keyboard. You can place your mouse in the middle for a more comfortable setup. The keyboard uses cherry switches, and you can adjust volume, surf pages, or more on the customizable aluminum wheel.

Another small but mighty TKL mechanical keyboard, the wireless ASUS provides a handy touch panel on the side for quick key access, controlling volume and more. You can expect over 450 hours of battery life on a single charge.

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