Following last week's column on next-generation computers that focused on the internal components most owners never see, it feels only right to bring things back into the visual and tactile realm.

Keyboards rarely get much consideration when shopping for a new computer. Indeed, for all the specifications and options on show in a typical computer shop, most manufacturers provide the same standard keyboard with everything, from basic to range-topping models.

I think that's a mistake. For most people, the keyboard is their primary connection to the computer, offering more potential productivity gains than any fast hard drive or processor.

This week I've been testing the Apex keyboard from Danish manufacturer SteelSeries. Originally designed for the needs of computer gamers, the Apex thankfully eschews the swooping curves and garish colour schemes normally associated with gaming products, instead opting for an attractive understated piano black finish.

The keyboard's main party trick is its backlit keys, which can be tweaked to display a variety of colours across five different zones, for example displaying the alphabet keys in blue, the function keys in purple and the number keypad in green.

That may sound like style over substance, but the colours serve an additional function: four dedicated "layer" keys allow the operator to switch between tasks, each of which can have its own colour signature. These layers don't only control the colours, but also the function of the 22 customisable macro keys on the Apex.

In testing I had one layer set up for word processing, the letter keys glowing a calming sage while all of the other buttons faded dark into the background. Another layer was dedicated to photo editing; in this mode the macro keys were configured to glow bright red, reminding me that each had been set up as a time-saving shortcut.

Other nice touches include unmissably large space and escape keys plus a pair of diagonal up arrows that fill the traditionally empty space on a standard keyboard. A pair of USB ports on the rear complete its suite of tricks, allowing memory sticks and other USB devices to be plugged in without reaching for the main PC unit.

Typing on the Apex for extended periods is a joy. The keys are responsive and have just the right amount of travel – more than a laptop, but less than a standard desktop keyboard.

My only slight disappointment with the Apex is that it isn't possible to change the colour of each letter key individually, something that would be a boon for video editors or musicians who have to hunt for randomly grouped sets of control keys.

Twitter: @grant_gibson

Positives Great looks, solid construction and comfortable to use.

Negatives Colours can't be assigned to individual keys.