After showing signs of age for months, my official Apple keyboard died last week, the E key had simply seen too many crumbs. Rather than replacing like for like, I wanted to try something different, and you can’t get much more different than the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini keyboard.
While the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini ($299) is adorably small, it is packed full of features that make it worth considering if you’re short on space, but big on being extremely picky about your keyboard.
What is the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini?
If you’re not familiar with mini keyboards, they’re keyboards with the minimum number of keys, taking up the bare minimum desk space while still having full-sized keys. So, there are no arrow keys, no function row, no media keys. There are full featured keyboards, keyboards with num pads, TKL keyboards, and then mini keyboards. We’ll get to the experience of using a mini in a sec, but first the other features of the Apex 9 Mini:
Probably the biggest selling point is that you can swap out the switches yourself (and buy replacement switch packs pretty inexpensively) so you can customise your keyboard, or just repair it when the E key on this one gets too many crumbs, too. The switches on this one are OptiPoint next-gen optical switches. Not as advanced as the OptiPoint 2.0 Switches on the Apex Pro ($439), but the same general idea. The actuation point can be switched from 1mm to 1.5mm depending on whether you’re gaming or typing. That 1.5mm is about half the travel of the keys, so you do have to be on your toes about that a bit.
In the box, you get Linear Optical Switches, but you can also get clicky and tactile switches for $13USD ($19.80 AUD) on the SteelSeries site.
|SteelSeries Linear OptiPoint Optical
|5 Custom Profiles
|100 Million Keypresses
|32 bit ARM
|Actuation Points / Force
|1.0-1.5 mm / 35g
|Detachable USB Type-C
|Width: 293 mm / 11.53 in
Depth: 103 mm / 4.02 in
Height: 40 mm / 1.58 in
Weight: 676 g
|Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, and Mac OS X*. USB port required
|Apex 9 Mini Gaming Keyboard
Detachable Braided USB-C to USB-A Cable
Is using a mini keyboard weird?
Yes. Yes it is. But, surprisingly, it’s not as weird as I originally feared. I use the arrow keys all the time, and didn’t realise how much I relied on the media keys until I didn’t have them anymore, yet it also didn’t take me long at all to get used to using the modifier key.
See, each of the keys have an extra little picture on the side, like the numbers are also the function keys, WASD are arrows, and so on. To access those functions you just hold down the SteelSeries branded key, just as you would hold Shift to get a capital letter. This is old news to mini keyboard veterans, but for someone who is normally all full keyboard all the time, this was a big change that I expected to be way harder than it was.
Funnily enough, the thing I found most difficult about moving to the mini keyboard wasn’t having to adjust to how I used arrows, but adjusting to not having a wrist rest that was the right height. On my Apex Pro on my PC, there is a wrist rest that makes everything feel like you don’t have to travel too far. On my old Apple keyboard, you don’t need a wrist rest because it’s so flat. On this Apex 9 Mini keyboard, it’s taking me a week to adjust to the new way my fingers need to move. I guess this is why they make those weird anime gel wrist rests. Being a mini keyboard, a wrist rest would defeat the purpose of saving desk space, it’s an interesting thing to note about the adjustment.
SteelSeries Apex 9 keyboard typing experience on Mac
After remapping the keys to better suit the Mac, typing on the Apex 9 keyboard has been delightful. The Linear switches are just clicky enough, but not too clicky, and give a decent amount of feedback. They don’t have to be pressed down too hard for the keystroke to register. It’s a satisfying typing experience. I strongly recommend it. Probably wouldn’t be great in an office environment where someone might be tempted to stab you for being too loud, but works great at home.
The only problem with using it on Mac is that although there is a download for the SteelSeries GG software on Mac, it’s more of a token gesture than actual, working software. If you try to customise your keyboard in the GG software on Mac it’ll say it ‘can’t be found’ and sends you to a series of FAQs that eventually say it’s only compatible with older Macs with older operating systems, and won’t work with M1/M2 Macs. It’s not the end of the world, but it is something to keep in mind when you’re keyboard shopping. Like, I would like to be able to customise the RGB lighting and take advantage of all the features on Mac, but that’s not an option (even though the keyboard is listed as compatible with Mac on the website, which I guess it is, but not fully).
If you’re not buying a $299 gaming keyboard just to use to type on your Mac, you’re probably looking at it for gaming on a PC. It’s unsurprisingly great at that. Nowhere near as customisable as the Apex Pro, but also nowhere near as expensive, so that balances out. Being able to switch to the 1mm actuation point means that you can get even quicker responses out of the keyboard than the 1.5mm, and were I a better PC gamer, I would be able to take full advantage of that. But for a non-pro PC gamer, it felt good and played well. I liked that you could put two abilities on the one key, so you could walk with a light press and sprint with a harder press, for example. That made for a better experience.
It’s easy to remove the key caps to switch them out with the included keycap puller. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a switch puller included, so I can’t tell you how easy it is to swap out there, but it looks pretty easy in the support video.
SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini verdict
I really like this adorable keyboard! I’m not sure a Mini would be my first-choice long term if I didn’t need the extra desk space, because while the space saving techniques are clever and don’t take too much to get used to, it does add a few extra steps to my usual workflow I’m not used to. But if I was someone who needed that extra desk space, this is the mini keyboard to buy.
As for the Apex 9 more broadly (given it also comes in a TKL flavour), this is an excellent choice of keyboard if the Apex Pro is out of your budget, but you still want optical switches. This keyboard is built like a tank, its response times are lightning fast, it feels good to use, and if it ticks the boxes of what you’re after on paper, I think it’s even better to use in person.
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