PC & Console Peripherals

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini in review: gaming keyboard with replaceable switches

New keyboards from Denmark. In September, manufacturer SteelSeries expanded its Apex keyboard series with the 9 models, which are particularly compact as a mini in the 60 percent layout or in the TKL design. The most important innovation here is the linear and replaceable OptiPoint optical switches. Our SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini review clarifies how good the gaming keyboards are.

Specifications

Button switch type SteelSeries OptiPoint
Switch types Linear
Switch interchangeable yes
Special feature

2-point triggering (1.0 mm or 1.5 mm)

Material Aluminum
Dimensions (L x W x H) 355 mm x 128 mm x 42 mm (TKL);
293 mm x 103 mm x 40 mm (Mini)
Weight 635 grams (TKL);
676 grams (Mini)
Onboard memory 5 profiles
Cable connector USB Type-C
Rollover technology N-Key Rollover
Key Caps PBT Double-Shot
Operating Modes Typing; Gaming
Colors Black
Price

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini review: what’s included

Since there are no differences between the two gaming keyboards, apart from the size, we decided to combine the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini review. Those who are already at home in the manufacturer’s ecosystem and have owned a SteelSeries keyboard before will already know the scope of delivery.

Like the keyboards in general, it is almost identical to the Apex Pro, which we were able to test in August 2022. Meaning: both keyboards come in a gray-orange cardboard box, which contains a fabric-covered USB-A to USB-C cable and a manual in addition to the respective keyboard.

Design and finish

  • High-quality, rugged housing
  • Aluminum panel with good damping
  • Convincing, haptically comfortable, PBT keycaps

The design of the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini also looks very familiar. Both keyboards rely on high-quality, black PBT keycaps. The same ones we know from the more expensive Pro model.

They are not only particularly robust and durable, but also offer a grippy and textured surface that provides a particularly successful feel and a pleasant typing experience. New in the Apex 9 keyboards is the plate on which the switches are placed. This is made of an aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, which should make the keyboard even more stable and robust.

This naturally results in a higher weight. With 635 grams and 676 grams respectively, the gaming keyboards are no lightweights, but there are also significantly heavier models on the market. However, they feel robust and of a very high quality.

Another difference is of course the size: The SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is even more compact than the TKL variant due to the 60-percent layout and the resulting omission of the arrow keys. Specifically, the Mini measures 293 mm x 103 mm x 40 mm (length x depth x height) compared to 355 mm x 128 mm x 42 mm.

To save space, the silver contrasting manufacturer logo is also only found on the top of the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL, but probably on the back of both models. Here you will also find the USB-C port on the far left – since neither gaming keyboard works wirelessly. However, the cable is still detachable in both variants for easier transport and replacement if something should break.

In addition to the arrow keys and the block above them, the TKL offers a pleasantly grooved volume wheel in the upper right corner, which you can also use to mute with a click. Below that is another, illuminated button. It is used for media control, for example to start or pause music.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL
The SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL offers an additional volume wheel (clickable) and a media button.

Somewhat unusual, even for a keyboard with a ten-keyless design, is, for example, the omission of the three keys that are normally at home in the upper right. Namely pressure, scroll and pause.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini in a practical test

  • Extremely fast triggering, innovative OptioPoint switches
  • Two trigger points adjustable
  • Replaceable switches, unfortunately only for SteelSeries switches

I have already mentioned how pleasant the feel of the PBT keycaps turns out. This makes for an excellent typing and typing feel in practice. However, the most important innovation of the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini marks the key switches.

In contrast to the OmniPoint 2.0 switches of the Apex Pro, the new models use OptiPoint switches. Instead of opto-mechanical switches, you can expect purely optical switches. They use light to detect the depth of your keystrokes.

According to the manufacturer, this should result in 33 percent faster triggering, non-existent bounce, and a response time of just 0.2 milliseconds. At the same time, the keyswitches have a so-called “2-point triggering”, which allows you to adjust the stroke distance.

This works with the help of a key combination or the accompanying software. Here you switch between a gaming mode with 1 mm stroke and a typing mode with 1.5 mm stroke. The difference is very small on paper, but definitely noticeable in practice. The advantage of the longer keystroke is of course that you minimize accidental keystrokes.

Another special feature is the exchangeable keycaps. You’ll find the corresponding keycap puller, safely hidden behind the rubber cover on the bottom of both keyboards.

But not only the caps can be exchanged, the optical switches can be replaced as well. However, this unfortunately only works with SteelSeries optical switches. Other optical switches, already rather rare compared to their mechanical counterparts, are not supported due to the white surface of the SteelSeries switches. But it is still very nice to have this option.

Although a tool for removing the key switches is unfortunately missing in the scope of delivery – which is only mentioned at all in the manual. How good that I still had a switch puller at home. This also revealed that the manufacturer Gateron had contributed the optical switches.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini
Too bad: A tool to remove the switches is unfortunately not included.

Tipping and typing feel

  • Excellent, precise typing feel
  • Very low trigger point, very suitable for gaming
  • Mini variant with second key layout

But enough grumbling. So how does it type and write on the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini? The short answer: excellent. For the long answer, however, I have to go a little deeper into detail.

Basically, you can compare the typing feel with linear mechanical switches. You don’t get any feedback when you press or hold the key. However, the difference is that the Opti-Point switches from SteelSeries trigger much faster and easier.

We remember: The trigger point is 1.0 or 1.5 mm, depending on the mode. With the Cherry MX Red, on the other hand, it is 3.4 mm, for example. And the trigger pressure for pressing the keys is also lower on the Apex 9 Mini and TKL.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini field test

Especially if you normally use tactile mechanical switches, this takes some getting used to. But the change goes well by the hand. Personally, I’m not a big fan of linear switches and usually prefer (brown) tactile switches.

Nevertheless, I find the typing and writing feel very pleasant. Especially since the keystrokes are confirmed by a pleasant noise – the aluminum plate does a good job at dampening the noise.

Of course, you have to make do without the arrow keys on the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini, as well as without the F-key row, INS, DEL, HOME and co. The manufacturer makes use of a clever dual key layout. Especially the right half of the keys is assigned twice and in combination with the FN key and the corresponding second key you get the full range here – including F keys and media controls.

This is very well solved, but it’s a bit of a pity that the designation is found on the inside of the keys and is also not illuminated – which makes finding your way around in the dark a bit more difficult. Otherwise, there is nothing to complain about.

The switches of the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini are definitely among the best and fastest optical keyboard switches I have used so far. Of course, they show their full potential especially in gaming mode. Triggering occurs almost without noticeable delay. 0.2 ms latency is a real claim.

RGB lighting

  • Comprehensively customizable illumination

Of course, a gaming keyboard should not be without extensive RGB lighting. And this presents itself at SteelSeries, typical for the manufacturer, very detailed and extensive. You can not only set active lighting effects within the companion software, but also reactive ones (i.e. effects that react to keystrokes) or for idle.

And that with different colors, gradients, effects and even for each key separately. I don’t know of any manufacturer that offers such an extensive range of lighting effects. Those who like it colorful will get their money’s worth here.

Software Connection: SteelSeries GG

  • Clearly structured software
  • Many setting options
  • 5 profiles, macros and meta bindings

As always, SteelSeries GG is used as the companion software. This offers you the most important customization options for the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini in a clearly structured design.

You can store up to five individual profiles in the keyboard’s onboard memory and configure every single key individually. Whether other keys, special functions, symbols or extensive macros: all no problem. And that’s even separate for typing and gaming mode.

You can also define so-called meta bindings, i.e. key combinations in connection with the FN key. The already mentioned customization of the RGB lighting skillfully rounds off the range of functions.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini review: conclusion

When it comes to the sum of their parts, the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL and SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini are pretty unique, largely due to the customizable optical switches. Interchangeable keycaps and switches are definitely another plus point, although the selection of switches is limited to those from the manufacturer.

However, if that doesn’t bother you, the Apex 9 is an excellent gaming keyboard with a very high-quality build and convincing across the board, which should also cut a good figure among frequent typists.

In addition, you have the freedom to choose the size and can save some space on the desk with the Apex 9 Mini, without losing any of the functionality – thanks to the secondary layout.

Both models are priced well below the Apex Pro Mini, which also offers that little bit more. All in all, the SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL and Mini are excellent, very high-quality and precise gaming keyboards that are absolutely worth the money.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini

Workmanship
Features
Ergonomics
Software
Value for money

91/100

High-quality and robust gaming keyboards in various sizes that score with extremely precise optical switches and excellent keycaps.

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL price comparison


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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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Neue Tastaturen aus Dänemark. Erst im September erweiterte Hersteller SteelSeries seine Tastaturen-Serie Apex um die 9er Modelle, die besonders kompakt als Mini im 60-Prozent-Layout oder im TKL-Design daherkommen. Wichtigste Neuerung markieren dabei die linearen und austauschbaren optischen OptiPoint-Schalter. Wie gut die Gaming-Keyboards sind, klärt unser SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL/Mini Test. Technische Daten Tastenschaltertyp SteelSeries OptiPoint … (Weiterlesen...)

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