Pros

  • OptiPoint switches feel noticeably faster and more responsive
  • Included keycaps have good texture, no shine
  • Built-in lighting is subtle and well-saturated

Cons

  • Keycaps are on the thinner side
  • Side-printed legends can be hard to see in dark rooms
  • GG software still seems overly bloated

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.

Specifications

Switches OptiPoint linear optical switches
Acutation height 1.0mm or 1.5mm
Response time 0.2ms
RGB Lighting Per-key, customizable 
Onboard profile storage Yes
Connectivity  USB-C to USB-A cable
Materials Plastic and aluminum
Height adjustment Yes
Form factor TKL or 60%

Unique features

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. 

More: Gaming mechanical keyboards: How to choose and are they really worth it?

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.

SteelSeries OptiPoint switches

The OptiPoint optical switches feel like many other mechanical switches you’ve used, but they use light beams instead of metal contacts. 

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

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. 

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

These caps are on the thin side for double shot PBT, but still provide that pleasantly rough surface PBT is known for.

RGB Lighting

SteelSeries Apex 9 TKL with RGB on

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

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. 

Little extras

SteelSeries Apex 9's included keypuller tool

Both boards hide a little secret under rubber flap on their bottom sides

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

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. 

Performance 

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