If we had to pick our favourite budget keyboard based on design alone, the SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL would easily take the win. It certainly helps that the compact tenkeyless (TKL) form factor looks a little less bulky than full-size keyboards, but the full-size version of this board looks great too. Instead, it’s the subtler details that really elevate this board.
For a start, the backlighting is nicely contained in translucent, sunken sections that provide a nice way for the lighting to fill out below the keys without spilling everywhere. The lighting is also split up into eight equal-size columns – offering more control than some cheaper boards that don’t have per-key backlighting – allowing for a particularly nice flowing, colour shift effect. You can change the speed and colours of this effect, choose a breathing effect or opt for a static colour.
The shape of the board is smart too, with sides that angle inwards toward the desk, creating a slimmer look. It also nicely balances clean lines with just the right amount of rounding to its edges to soften the whole thing. The compact volume wheel integrated into the top right edge and the play/pause button below are also great additions. Tap the wheel and it’ll mute audio, while the play/pause button will also skip forward a track when double pressed and back a track when triple pressed.
You don’t get too many other features on the top of the board but there are secondary functions shown on the F10-F12 keys that provide macro recording and brightness adjustment plus the Del/PgUp cluster provides six macro shortcut keys. All are activated by pressing the aforementioned keys along with the Fn key.
Flip the board over and although the USB cable is fixed, its cable can be routed to exit the back of the keyboard in three different locations, either from the middle or a couple of inches from either side of the board. There are also surprisingly sturdy, rubberised flip-down feet. There’s no included wrist rest, though.
A further nod to the Apex 3’s design is the font on the keys, which is very large and easy to read, and smart looking too, though the way the letter legends are pushed to the top left of each key is a little odd.
The keys use SteelSeries’ Whisper-Quiet switches that are rated to 20 million keypresses. These use a rubber dome mechanism for their spring action (rather than an actual spring like on mechanical keyboards) and have a very stiff initial step to their action so require a bit of force to press, which we found a touch fatiguing and slightly slowed our typing.
They’re responsive, though, not requiring you to hammer the key down to get a response, and the initial resistance may soften a little over time. To call the keys whisper-quiet is certainly a stretch, though, with us measuring a noise level of 51.6dB at a head height distance from the board (50cm).
SteelSeries claims the Apex 3 is the first-ever water resistant TKL gaming keyboard, which may well be true, but the water proofing claimed here certainly has its limits. The level of protection for an IP32 rating requires resistance to vertically dripping water with the device either flat or angled up to 15 degrees from its normal position. So more splash than full on spill resistant.
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL pros and cons
- Nice design
- Decent feature set
- Quiet keys
- Spill resistant
- Very low price
- Quite stiff key response
- 20 million key press life
- Only 10-zone RGB
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL specs
The SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL specs list is:
|Dimensions (mm)||364 x 150 x 40 (WxDxH)|
|Format||TKL – 80keys|
|Connections||Fixed USB cable|
|Switch life||20 million key presses|
|Extras||Volume wheel and play/pause button, multiple cable routing channels, IP32 water resistance|
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL price
The Apex 3 TKL is a very cheap keyboard, making it affordable for most buyers.
Price: Expect to pay $36 / £33
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL review conclusion
The SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL is a great little rubber dome switch keyboard. It looks smart and has a nicely balanced feature set thanks to its smart multi-function multimedia buttons. Add in the water proofing, very quiet keys and very low price and you have a winner, if you don’t mind the fairly heavy key press. If this keyboard isn’t quite what you’re after, though, why not have a browse of our best gaming keyboard guide for more recommendations.
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL rating
Smart but capable and keenly priced, but it requires a hard key press.