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SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL Review & Rating

SteelSeries is updating its mechanical keyboards with variations on its new Apex Pro and Apex 7, and some of the changes are subtle in look but significant in practice. Take the $129.99 Apex 7 TKL tested here: It bears a strong resemblance to the company’s earlier Apex M750 TKL, but with some extra flair and functionality, most notably a little OLED display in one corner. “TKL,” for those fluent in keyboard lingo, stands for “tenkeyless,” meaning a reduced-width keyboard without a 10-digit number pad. That’s just about all that this killer keyboard is lacking, though, and it’s not a shortfall. (You buy a tenkeyless keyboard specially for the smaller footprint and the ability to position your hands closer together.) The Apex 7 TKL is attractive, comfortable, and sturdy, and our favorite tenkeyless model of the moment.

Taking Off a Tenner

The Apex 7 TKL can be viewed as an unofficial successor to SteelSeries’ Apex M750 TKL keyboard, and both products share many design features, including a classy, rigid aluminum frame. Both keyboards are available with SteelSeries’ custom Red switches, and the Apex 7 TKL offers the option for Brown or Blue switches, as well. All three key types fall under the umbrella of SteelSeries’ own “QX2” mechanisms. (The overall typing experience on the two keyboards with Red switches should be identical.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box Open)

The Apex 7 TKL model that I tested came with the Blue variety of the QX2 switches, which provide tactile feedback when struck and produce a loud click, in the tradition of the classic Cherry MX Blue switches. (See our guide to mechanical keyboards for more on the nuances among switch types.) Although the audible feedback is part of the attraction with keyboards that use Blue-style switches, the Apex 7 TKL will be uncomfortably loud if you use it in a communal workspace or in a household of light sleepers.

Most of the noise produced by the keyboard sounds like it is produced by the keys bottoming out rather than from the actuation of the Blue switch mechanisms themselves. I’ve used plenty of keyboards with Cherry MX Blue switches, as well as Razer models with Razer’s similar Green switches, and while those keyboards were also a bit noisy, the Apex 7 TKL tops them on key clatter. The Brown-switch alternative might be better if you like the tactile bump of a mechanical but have noise concerns. All three switches for the Apex 7 TKL are rated by SteelSeries for a 2mm actuation point, so the perceived keypress depth ought not vary among the three switch types.

Despite the noise, I found that typing on the keyboard was pleasant and in line with expectations for Blue-class keys. The keys felt like they actuated easily, without the need to apply excessive force, and I didn’t feel any finger fatigue while typing this article using the keyboard.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the keyboard is a narrow, clickable scroll wheel that controls the computer’s volume, and below it is a button that pauses or plays any media you have open. Like all of the keys on the keyboard, the scroll wheel and button can be reprogrammed to support other functions.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB)

What sets the TKL apart from most other keyboards, though, is its on-chassis micro-screen. Beside the scroll wheel and button is a little monochrome OLED display with a resolution of 128×40. Though it may just look like dressing at first, this unusual feature makes the keyboard more customizable. By default, the OLED display shows just the SteelSeries logo and brand name, but you can upload other images (including GIF and JPG files) for the keyboard to display. (Animated images display at a rate of 10 frames per second.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (OLED)

The more useful application of the OLED panel, though, is informational. The panel is designed to work with applications such as Discord (for showing messages and identifying your correspondents) and Spotify (listing what track is being played), as well as to show various game-specific details. The latter vary by game.

You can also use the OLED display to adjust system settings (such as volume), or to switch profiles right from the keyboard display, all without having to reference a dialog or slider on your monitor. SteelSeries implements some of this via an easy-to-use onboard menu system. By pressing and holding the keyboard’s clickable scroll button for a few seconds, the OLED screen will switch to display the menu, which can be navigated using the button and scroll wheel to tweak settings, work with macros, and change profiles. You can even use the menu system to program macros and build profiles without the need of any software on the computer.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Bottom)

SteelSeries also equips this keyboard with a USB passthrough port that illuminates and glows white. In another nice touch, channels on the bottom of the keyboard chassis help with cable management. These tunnels are meant to hold the keyboard’s thick cable and have it exit the keyboard’s rear edge where you like, but they can also be used to help route the cable for whatever device you plug into the USB passthrough port.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB 2)

SteelSeries also provides a sturdy palm rest with the keyboard. The palm rest has a comfortable, rubbery coating and is held on by a pair of magnets. The magnets help keep the wrist rest lined up with the keyboard, but they aren’t all that strong; they do little to keep the palm rest attached. Picking up or moving the keyboard at all will cause the palm rest to promptly detach and fall to the floor or desk.

Rev Up the Engine

Although you can manage many of the functions of this keyboard from the onboard menu system and the mini-screen, more complex key- and light-programming tasks are always more easily handled on your PC proper. To access all of the keyboard’s features, you will need to download SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software. Certain settings are accessible only via this software, and you will also need to use Engine to upload a custom image to the OLED display.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Software)

We’ve looked at the Engine software many times before, so no need to dig too deep here. Our opinion of it holds. Engine 3 is cleanly laid out, with all keyboard functions divided into three tabbed sections (for shortcuts, lighting, and the OLED panel), and it’s both powerful and easy to use, the equal of competing utilities from other gaming-board makers.

Our Top Tenkeyless

All things considered, while the Apex 7 TKL is a loud typer in the Blue sample that we received for review, it remains enjoyable to use. The under-key lights look pleasant, the body is rock-solid, and the small OLED display has actual utility and wow factor in equal measure.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box)

Productivity-minded users likely wouldn’t want to use this keyboard as their everyday driver, due to its lack of a number pad, but that misses the point for the serious gamers and tweakers it is meant for. Positioning your hands closer together when gaming is ergonomically and strategically a better bet, and the need to incorporate fewer pricey mechanical switches on a given keyboard means more of the cost can go toward adding innovative features or more creature comforts.

In that way, the Apex 7 TKL strikes a deft balance for its price. It’s an excellent and stylish solution for anyone who doesn’t need a number pad but does want maximal tweakability, durability, and value from a mechanical board.

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SteelSeries Rival 710 Review & Rating

In 2016, the SteelSeries Rival 700 was the height of opulence among PC gaming mice. This wired mouse earned a high score from PCMag for its great core components, but it really made its name for a series of wild features, notably a small OLED display on one side, and the ability to swap out some of its components, thanks to a modular design. In 2019, SteelSeries replaces it with the $99.99 SteelSeries 710, which changes out its default Pixart PMW 3360 sensor for a proprietary one focused on accuracy over sensitivity. While that lowers its peak resolution, the SteelSeries Rival 710 remains a very good mouse, especially if you get a kick out of brag-worthy, out-there gear.

Plot Your Next TrueMove

Like its predecessor, the Rival 710 is a wired right-handed mouse with seven buttons. On top, you have left- and right-clickers, a clickable scroll wheel, and an extra button just below it, which defaults to switch between two resolution settings. These numbers you can designate in the configuration software, SteelSeries Engine 3.

SteelSeries Rival 710 angled

On the side are two more buttons, which rest below the edge of the mouse rather than on top, encouraging you to hold your thumb in position along its side. That position lines you up to use the triangular DPI-drop or “sniper” button, which is just below the forward button.

SteelSeries Rival 710 left angle

As right-handed gaming mice go, the Rival 710 is pretty thick. At 4.9 inches long by 3 inches wide by 1.6 inches high, it’s a large mouse and feels especially wide in the hand. That’s mostly a good thing: The mouse feels sturdy, and its shape leaves room for the right side of the hand to rest on the mouse, even if you need to adjust your grip to reach certain buttons. While the side buttons guide your hand to hold the mouse a specific way, the body has no thumb rest or support, which could come in handy during long play sessions, especially since your thumb is supposed to stay put in a rather specific position.

SteelSeries Rival 710 top buttons

Before we move on to the Rival 710’s most distinctive features, let’s talk about the main component that sets it apart from its predecessor, the TrueMove3 optical sensor. Technically, the TrueMove3 supports up to 12,000cpi (SteelSeries favors the term “counts per inch” to DPI or dots per inch), which is substantially less than the 16,000cpi of the Rival 700’s Pixart 3360 sensor. According to SteelSeries, the TrueMove3 sensor provides more accurate detection, especially at settings less than 3,500cpi.

I can’t say I found a huge difference between playing under and over 3,500, but the mouse is very accurate, even when playing shooters like Rage 2 or first-person action games like Mordhau. I don’t necessarily think that the TrueMove3 is worth upgrading over, but if you want, you can simply buy the sensor. (We’ll get to that in a minute). Still, it’s quick and reliable, worthy of a place inside a top-flight gaming mouse.

SteelSeries Rival 710 underside

Here’s the odd thing: You can still set the mouse run at up to 16,000, just like on the Rival 700. When you push it above 12,000, however, the resolution rating switches from a measure in CPI to a simulated-detection “DCPI,” standing for “digital counts per inch.” Though I rarely use my mice at such high sensitivity settings, the mouse felt noticeably less accurate in that range. I would advise treating the Rival 710 as if its maximum setting is 12,000cpi.

So, What’s That Screen Do Again?

Just past your thumb lies the first of the Rival 710’s many unusual features, a black-and-white OLED display at the front of its left side…

SteelSeries Rival 710 front OLED

In theory, it will display any image or simple GIF you upload in SteelSeries Engine 3, though to make sure it looks legible, you will want to make sure it’s at least monochromatic, if not black and white, and scales down to the display’s small and particular size, 128 by 36 pixels. Put another way, most people will stick to images made by other users. That isn’t as big a loss as it sounds, though, as you can find a lot of cool ones out there if you’re willing to dig a little bit.

SteelSeries Rival 710 OLED animations

Technically, the display can also show practical information related to certain games, such as DOTA 2 and Minecraft, but the functionality is limited to just a few games and apps. More important, only in a very few scenarios can reading the data on the mouse’s screen be deemed even charitably useful. Overall, though, I think the OLED micropanel is neat. It takes the aesthetic customization you get from RGB lighting in most gaming mice and keyboards and pushes it to the next level. As long as you’re willing to experiment with it, you’ll get plenty of fun out of it.

Speaking of the lighting, the Rival 710 has two RGB lighting elements: a logo in the base of the mouse, and the scroll wheel. That feels a little scanty for a mouse with so many other cosmetic features, but then again, maybe it’s for the best. Having fewer lights lets the OLED display and other customizations shine.

SteelSeries Rival 710 base

The Rival 710 also has an elaborate haptic feedback system, which allows you to set custom vibrations tied to timers and, in some games, key events like losing a certain amount of health or running out of ammo. Again, only a small number of apps offer the ability to set those contextual haptic reminders, so it’s hard to get too excited about it.

Unlike with the screen, the lack of support for a wider range of apps feels like a real missed opportunity. With 10 vibrations and the ability to customize their length and power, this kind of haptic feedback could be great for a lot of games, but after a few years, it’s clear that support just isn’t coming.

The last wild feature in the Rival 710 is its modular design. Several parts of the mouse (the top and side panels, the cable, and the sensor) can be swapped out and replaced with alternate components.

You might be asking about now: “Whaaat?” But there are myriad reasons you might want to buy an alternate part. For one thing, SteelSeries sells a more powerful sensor if you want greater sensitivity. Or, there’s a glossy top and side shell, if you prefer that to the Rival 710’s matte finish. The removable pieces are easy enough to take on and off, though they sometimes require a little force, which always makes me nervous. Removing the sensor component requires a screwdriver, which is a bit of a task, but, then again, how often are you planning to swap sensors?

SteelSeries Rival 710 parts

Like the other features, though, it feels like one good theoretical idea has been left behind: If there were more options and upgrades (say, many different-color shells or longer cables), the modularity might appeal more as a quality-of-life feature. On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to have the ability to remove and replace parts, especially if you plan to use the Rival 710 for a long time.

The one modular component that’s a little more interesting is the small, rubberized nameplate at the base of the mouse. In addition to selling replacements, SteelSeries has a 3D-printer file design available for replacing the piece, giving you the ability to make your own nameplate. While it’s not an important function, by any means, and most folks won’t use it given the general scarcity of 3D printers, it adds the ability to bring more customization and thought to your gear, if you’re very motivated.

Gunning the Engine

As I mentioned before, the Rival 710 supports SteelSeries’ configuration software, SteelSeries Engine 3, for customizing technical settings and setting up cosmetic features, such as the OLED display. The Rival 710 can save five onboard profiles, which include button mappings and visual customization elements like lighting and the display. On your computer, you can create as many profiles as you wish, giving you the option to make profiles for individual games, if you choose. I also appreciate that SteelSeries is one of the few companies with software that works on both Mac and PC, which makes it more versatile for those of us who play on multiple devices.

SteelSeries Rival 710 engine screen 1

Customizing the basic features of the mouse, such as the sensitivity settings, the button mapping, and the acceleration, is very clear and straightforward. Setting a “tactile cooldown,” a timer that triggers haptic feedback, is also clear and easy to find. Even setting the image for the OLED display, which seems like it should be complicated because of its funky size requirements, works just like uploading an image to any other app.

SteelSeries Rival 710 engine screen 2

The software can get a little more confusing if you start dabbling with the game and app integrations, which are on a separate screen in the Engine menu. Though the visual language is clear, using a series of drop-downs similar to what you use in the mouse configuration menu, the app settings are custom to each program. It’s on you to figure out how they work best for you, which can feel intimidating.

Fun Design Ain’t Cheap

The SteelSeries Rival 710 can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re a gadget person. Modular parts, haptic feedback, custom images and GIFs…for the right person, these can all be actively fun features to tinker with and try.

SteelSeries Rival 710 top down base

Those features come at a premium, though. In 2019, spending $99 on a wired mouse will be a bit over the top for most shoppers. While the Rival 710 proves fast and accurate, mice like the Razer Basilisk and the Cougar Revenger S deliver fewer bells and whistles but offer similarly great sensor performance for half the price. If you see yourself frequently taking advantage of the Rival 710’s eccentricities, though, it may be worth taking in hand.

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SteelSeries Arctis 9X Review & Rating

The Arctis Pro Wireless from SteelSeries impressed us with its excellent design, audio quality, and feature set. If you want an excellent wireless headset for your PC or PlayStation 4, it’s still one we can easily recommend. If you primarily game on your Xbox One, however, you can’t use the Arctis Pro Wireless. That’s why SteelSeries made the Arctis 9X, an Xbox One-specific wireless gaming headset that looks, feels, and sounds a lot like the Arctis Pro Wireless, but without the base station. It connects directly to your Xbox One over Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless standard, and can connect to your phone or PC over Bluetooth at the same time. At $199.99 it’s much less expensive than the Arctis Pro Wireless while delivering a similar experience, and so it earns our Editors’ Choice for Xbox One gaming headsets.

A Comfortable, Sturdy Design

The Arctis 9X looks and feels almost exactly like the Arctis Pro Wireless, but with a geometric splash of green lines on the black elastic of the headband to indicate its Xbox One friendliness. It’s a primarily matte black headset with large oval earcups with slightly shiny sides and rubberized back panels. The left earcup holds the boom mic, a black capsule on a flexible metal arm that retracts almost completely into the earcup when not in use. A wheel on the back edge of the earcup adjusts audio balance for game and voice chat. The right earcup holds a volume wheel, a mic mute button, Bluetooth and power buttons (the power button also cycles through four EQ presets), a micro USB port for charging, and a 3.5mm port for using the headset wired (a cable isn’t included). All controls and connections are located along the sides of each earcup; the rubberized back panels are empty save for subtle Steelseries logos.

The flat metal headband connects the two earcups with curved black plastic arms that can tilt and pivot. Instead of padding under the headband, the Arctis 9X uses an elastic strap that wraps around the length of the headband to provide springy tension that lifts the metal off of your scalp. The over-ear earpads are soft memory foam wrapped in breathable black fabric, and combine with the elastic suspension of the headband for a very light, comfortable feel during long gaming or listening sessions. Since the headset is so easy to wear and the mic is a barely noticeable plastic nub when not in use, it can easily be used as Bluetooth headphones when you aren’t gaming.

Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth

This headset is designed to be used with wirelessly the Xbox One, which isn’t quite the same as Bluetooth even if the pairing process is very similar. There’s no wireless receiver to plug into your console like other wireless Xbox One gaming headsets. Just press the Pairing button on the system and it will connect to the headset over the same Xbox Wireless standard as the Xbox One’s gamepads. If you want to use it wirelessly with your PC, SteelSeries recommends using the Xbox Wireless Adapter. You can also connect it to your PC or mobile device through the Bluetooth menu, but this significantly hurts voice quality, which we’ll explain below. And if you want to use it wired with any game system, mobile device, or PC, you need to get a four-pole 3.5mm cable.

Since Bluetooth and Xbox Wireless are separate forms of connectivity, the Arctis 9X can accept audio from two sources at once. I used the headset simultaneously with my phone over Bluetooth and an Xbox One S over Xbox Wireless, and I could listen to music through the former even as I played on the latter. It means you can game while still keeping a separate connection to your phone, letting you enjoy custom music soundtracks to any game just by playing it over your phone.

SteelSeries Arctis 9X

Microphone Quality

If you use a straight Bluetooth connection to connect the Arctis 9X to your PC, you’ll run into some big problems with the microphone. Test recordings in Audacity were riddled with Bluetooth artifacts that made my voice sound like it was on a cell phone call with a bad connection. A test recording through the Xbox One Upload Studio sounded much clearer and with fewer Bluetooth artifacts, which indicates that the problem is in the Bluetooth connection over Windows; use the Xbox Wireless Adapter to connect it if you want decent voice quality.

If you do use an Xbox Wireless Adapter to connect the headset to your PC, however, you’ll find that the Arctis 9X’s microphone is excellent. Test recordings through Xbox Wireless sounded crisp and clean, with no recording artifacts. It’s comparable with the microphone on the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless, a more expensive headset that uses its own dedicated wireless adapter. If you stay away from Bluetooth, the Arctis 9X’s mic will work well for streaming and recording commentary. Of course, if you’re serious about audio recording, consider a dedicated USB microphone instead.

Gaming Performance

I played some Forza Horizon 4 with the Arctis 9X connected to an Xbox One S. The roar of engines, from a Ford Focus to a Subaru Impreza, sounded loud and aggressive at high volume levels, and the voice of the navigation system came through clearly. The different cars are clearly distinct from each other, with the Subaru’s off-road rally whine much higher than the Focus’ midrange growl. The engines don’t reach quite low enough to produce strong bass, but the sounds of wreckage from my inevitable crashes got plenty of low-frequency punch.

I also played some Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Doom with the Arctis 9X, also through the Xbox One S. Again, the headset’s balanced audio and strong mids and highs were clear and full, though a relative lack of bass response keeps the rifle in Gears of War and the shotgun blasts in Doom from really showing any booming force. Directional audio with Windows Sonic was also very good, giving solid stereo processing to produce a simulated surround effect to determine the direction of incoming enemies.

Music Performance

For music, the Arctis 9X can handle audio capably, with strong balance, though don’t expect a very powerful bass experience with it. It handled our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” at maximum volume without a hint of distortion. However, the deep bass synth notes and kick drum hits don’t have much force behind them, lacking any palpable sense of low-frequency response. It’s loud and balanced, but it doesn’t try to reach even close into the sub-bass range.

The opening to Yes’ “Roundabout” gets some very strong low-mid to high-mid presence, bringing out the texture of the acoustic string plucks and giving the lower notes a generous, full resonance. The electric bass doesn’t get a ton of punch, but it also sounds full enough for the riffs to stay prominent against the drums and guitar strums in the track. The vocals stand out cleanly, receiving enough space in the busy mix to be easily heard. The Bass Boost EQ setting adds a bit of low-frequency response, but it still doesn’t reach low enough to produce a palpable sub-bass response. Fortunately, the headset remains nicely balanced across the board, which some bass-heavy gaming headsets can’t claim.

Excellent for Xbox Users

The SteelSeries Arctis 9X is one of the best Xbox One-specific wireless gaming headsets available. It looks and feels like the excellent Arctis Pro Wireless, which has already impressed us with its sturdy, comfortable build and audio performance. It connects to your Xbox One out of the box without any adapter to use up a USB port, and can connect to your phone, tablet, or computer over Bluetooth at the same time. It doesn’t have the most powerful bass, but head-rattling rumble isn’t the most important part of the gaming experience (or, arguably, the music experience), and its clear, balanced sound is a more than worthwhile trade-off, making it our Editors’ Choice.

If you’re primarily a PC gamer, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless and the Astro Gaming A50 remain two of the best wireless headsets out there, respectively offering a double-battery base station and a useful charging cradle, along with excellent audio playback and recording out of the box. They’re even more expensive than the Arctis 9X, though, and the Arctis Pro Wireless doesn’t work with the Xbox One, while the A50 doesn’t have Bluetooth. If you want to go wireless for less, and don’t mind giving up Bluetooth connectivity, the PDP LVL50 Wireless and the Astro Gaming A20 headsets offer very good audio performance for far less than the Arctis 9X, but they don’t sound nearly as crisp or feel nearly as comfortable.

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