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SteelSeries M800 Keyboard Favors Competitive Players

LAS VEGAS –- Every major gaming peripheral manufacturer is coming out with an RGB mechanical keyboard. That's not surprising.

What's interesting is when a keyboard targets a specific demographic, rather than just making something universally palatable (and potentially, a bit bland). The SteelSeries Apex M800 is not much for typing, but when it comes to obliterating opponents in competitive games, it might just be something special.

I spent a long time with SteelSeries at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015, and I did my best to put the Apex M800 through its paces. While the keyboard does not use industry-standard Cherry MX mechanical switches, it looks to emulate the elusive Cherry MX Black switch. These black-style switches generate little noise and have an extraordinarily short key travel: only 1.5 mm. My fingers sprang back up almost immediately after pushing a button.

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These switches turned out to be a double-edged sword. I typed a variety of phrases, ranging from "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" to an entire song from Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Sorcerer, and made a number of errors each time. The extremely rapid springing motion in each key felt jarring, and often had me writing letters in the wrong order.

On the other hand, some time in Counterstrike: GO and Minecraft convinced me that the Apex M800 delivers where it counts. In Counterstrike, the spring-back time turned from a hindrance into an advantage as I traveled through dangerous corridors, switching weapons and keeping an eye out for foes. Likewise, Minecraft felt great, and navigating the blocky landscape was as simple as could be.

One aspect of the M800 remains elusive, though: the RGB software. The keyboard will run on the very respectable SteelSeries 3 software, but the necessary update to the program was not available during my tests. The RGB lights looked pretty, but I couldn't say whether the software will be too simple, too complex or somewhere in-between.

The Apex M800 will retail for $200, but SteelSeries has not yet announced a release date. Tom's Guide will have a full review once the product gets closer to launch, but this one is definitely worth keeping an eye on for the competitive set.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.