After years of ongoing testing 13 designs side by side, we picked the Panasonic – ES-LL41-K as best electric razor. With blades that cut close and a motor that doesn’t let you down in tough stubble, this shaver is also a great value. For solid performance at a budget under $50, our pick was the Braun – Series 3. Braun was able to produce a low cost electric shaver without making its use unpleasant like other budget shavers we tested.
Size and number of foils: In Panasonic and Braun’s lines of razors, you get more foils cutting at once when you upgrade to the fancy top-tier models. This does making shaving go a little more quickly, though bigger heads can be tricky to maneuver around the nose and jawline.
Cleaning stands: Most of the manufacturers will sell you a charging and cleaning stand for their more expensive razors. This automates some daily maintenance functions, but if you want the stands to work their best you need to wash the shaver out before you put it back in the stand anyhow. They’re also pretty noisy, especially the Braun system.
Cost of ownership: Beyond the obvious replacement blades (if you’re shaving every day you should plan on buying a replacement foil set every year) there are also costs like cleaning stand refills or some light mineral oil to keep your razor sharp and clean.
Wet use: Most people who look to electric razors are seeking speed and efficiency, so taking time to lather up for wet-shaving is kind of counter-intuitive. The shaving suds will help the razor glide more smoothly across your face, though, and shaving in the shower makes cleanup even easier than with dry shaving.
Battery Life: It doesn’t take long to complete a shave, but there’s no downside to a larger battery other than cost. It used to be that one could use a cordless shaver plugged in after the battery ran down. Now that shavers nearly all work wet, the manufacturers have disabled this option to prevent accidental electrocutions.
Foil vs. rotary shavers
There are two common approaches to making a small motor into a hair-shaving machine. Each design is a transformation of the tried-and-true hair clipper mechanism. Rather than a single line of v-shaped cutting blades, though, shavers are a hole-filled “foil” of metal that can press safely against your skin and a blade inside that snips off hairs that poke through.
Foil-type shavers: These use a half-cylinder foil with a set of hoop-shaped blades nesting inside. The inside cutter blade rapidly buzzes back and forth, just like hair clipper blades do, but your skin is protected by the foil.
Rotary-type shavers: This uses the same scissor-like cutting action, but with a totally different mechanism. Rotary blades have two or three flat circular foils with micro-blades running in circles underneath like little propellers. The spinning blades are quieter and move more quickly than the blades in a foil-type, but they each cut a flat plane rather than a three-dimensional curve.
It’s easy to angle a rotary drive shaft, so each of the circular cutters can tilt to follow tricky contours like your chin. That said, foil shavers already have some contour-following advantages with the 3D shape of their foils. So the difference between types in this regard isn’t as big as it might seem.
We asked around about reasons to choose one type over the other, and got mixed responses, but a generally consistent theme. When we asked John Howes from Getarazor.com about his seven years of experience with different types of razors, he said that it depends mostly on hair and skin type. “A rotary shaver is great for thicker, coarser hair that grows in different directions. They’re also better if you prefer to have a less noisy shaver. Foil shavers are kinder to the skin, great for straight hair and precise shaving such as if you have a mustache or goatee.”
After testing a wide range of models from five different manufacturers, it seems clear that there is no hard and fast rule about who likes foils and who likes rotary shavers. Our two testers had polar-opposite experiences: One got a closer shave on his neck with the rotary shavers than he could get with the foil types, while another tester was convinced the top-of-the-line Philips rotary was broken.
In the end, if you find that a foil-type shaver just can’t get close to hairs that are growing in swirled growth patterns, you might be a good candidate for a rotary-type design.
On the whole, though, it seems clear that most people will be happier with the bar-shaped foils than the triangular pattern of circular foils. Carefully tracking against the “grain” of hair to cut closer is a bit easier that way.
How we selected
After reading reviews from shaver-centric blogs like Shavercheck, Pauper’s Dime and Getarazor.com, along with reviews from Wirecutter and Consumer Reports, it became clear that there are three brands to beat and not many competitors. The three brands that almost always come up are: Braun, Panasonic and Philips.
Braun is the most popular electric on Amazon, and their cleaning stand is iconic. Wirecutter loves them, but has only tested older models, while Ovidiu Nicolae at Shavercheck gives a comparison of up-to-date Braun and Panasonic models. We looked closely at both lines and picked out the newest models for close comparison.
We’ve seen mixed reviews for rotary-type foils, but Pauper’s Dime (a website focused on smart spending) is the token enthusiast, lauding the easy cleaning and quiet performance of the Philips rotary shavers. We bought Philips models that represent the newest designs Philips has to offer in both a value-priced and luxury-class shaver.
We tried to find alternatives to the big three, and we didn’t see much that was encouraging. Skipping no-name shavers that seemed too much of a gamble, we found two more models to calibrate our test experiences. The first is the Andis – Profoil. It’s the shaver of choice for barbers cleaning up fades, and we wanted to see how it fares in a lineup of complex waterproof razors.
Remington is the other notable name in electric razors. We picked their new PF-7600 as a model that’s price-comparable to the entry-level models from the other brands.
We looked at “travel” razors, but so far as we can tell the only reason to buy them is if you absolutely cannot plug in your charger for a month. Even the power-hungry Panasonic Arc5 should give you at least two weeks of shaving on a charge, and the power adapters for our winners are dual-voltage for international compatibility with a simple plug adapter.
How we tested
We’ve got two testers at Your Best Digs who are particular about shaving products. One is a long-time electric user whose skin blisters at the mere mention of razor burn, while the other has been experimenting with straight razors since before he could grow a bad mustache. We asked them for comprehensive feedback in the following categories:
Our testers ranked each design in side-by-side testing, judging which razor shaves closest by checking to see which designs could pick up stubble left behind by the others.
After nine weeks of testing, we compared notes and gave each model a score on a 5-point scale. It’s tricky to measure this as an absolute, since measuring leftover stubble is nearly impossible, but a five-star shaver could consistently improve on the closeness of a four-star shave, and so on.
Note that a blade and lather will pretty easily out-shave even the Panasonic – Arc 5, but it’s much closer than we thought it would be.
This was the most variable feedback we got from testers, particularly for the rotary-type shavers. After testing the top-class Philips – 8900, one tester (who has used a Braun foil-type shaver for years) said it was pulling at his hair so much he wondered if it was broken or might have a faulty battery.
Rotary shavers like the Philips models we tested use a “lift and cut” system that, theoretically, allows them to trim hair closer to the skin. That might explain the discomfort, but the Remington and Andis shavers weren’t much better. Those less-expensive foil-type models are also buzzy compared to the nearly silent rotary cutters.
Our sensitive tester also said he found the less-expensive Panasonic and Braun shavers slightly more “scratchy” feeling compared to the top-of-the-range models, while our less-sensitive tester found it difficult to rank them specifically on comfort during daily shaves.
The foils on the more expensive shavers don’t have any obviously different features (holes are a similar size, coatings are the same) but the speed of the motor and number of foils are increased by Braun and Panasonic respectively.
Our hypothesis is that the more expensive shavers are cutting more efficiently, which means you don’t need to press the shaver into your skin as much to get close; less abrasion always means less redness.
Wet shaving performance
Other than the Andis – Profoil, each of these shavers is able to work wet. That means you can use them in the shower, and if you want a little bit of added luxury, you can use them with shaving foam, cream or soap.
Our wet-shaving enthusiast tried the different shavers with our pick for the best shaving cream and some brush-lathered soaps. The biggest difference when wet shaving with an electric is that the foil glides smoothly over your skin with no resistance at all, a welcome relief after rubbing foils into his neck to get as close as possible.
The shavers that work best with this method are from Panasonic, and they were one of the first manufacturers to push waterproofness as a feature so it’s little surprise. The difference between shavers is not so much in closeness (each shaver gets slightly closer when your hair is dry and standing up as straight as possible), but in how they handle the foam.
Models from Panasonic, Remington and Philips have much more room inside the foil to scoop up the lather between rinses, while the Braun heads just “snowplow” the cream around your face.
Long stubble performance
We also ranked how well these shavers were able to mow down heavy growth after a four-day weekend. This ranking is based on two factors: First, whether the different razors were actually able to get through the thick stubble for a close shave, and second, whether there was a painful “pulling” sensation with longer hair.
Panasonic’s newer models like the Arc3 and Arc5 are supposed to automatically detect long hair and speed up the motor to cut it more efficiently, but we didn’t notice a significant change in speed as the shave continued. The Arc5’s extra foils did help mow down the heavy growth, though, and if you’re going from fuzz to clean-shaven every week this model would save you some time.
Braun’s Series 7 shaver performed well, and when the speed was cranked up all the way it matched the Panasonic for efficient and smooth cutting. Without the extra foils of the Arc5, though, it’s at a slight disadvantage for a speedy shave.
The Remington was the clear loser in this category, its smaller motor just couldn’t generate enough force to effectively chop away the longer stubble without pulling on the roots.
The best way to keep your razor sharp is to keep it clean. We’d read about big differences between the different designs, and we found that Braun’s fully enclosed cutter cartridges are definitely harder to clean thoroughly than Panasonic’s.
Probably the biggest surprise in our testing was that the high-end cleaning stands weren’t saving time or effort. Every cleaning stand insisted that a rinse was necessary before using the cleaning cycle, and by the time we got the hang of using liquid hand soap and a cup full of water to pre-clean the shavers, we started to doubt the benefit of another cleaning step with the stands.
The difference in cleaning score mostly came down to easy access to the inside of the cutting system. Braun’s system is totally contained in the snap-on cartridge, which doesn’t seem to be a major problem during cleaning after daily use, but makes it tricky to get out clumps of four-day stubble. All of the other systems separate the inside cutter and the foil, which makes it easier to do a thorough cleaning.
We charged each shaver and then timed how long it took for them to totally run out of juice.
Whether you really need more than a few days of charge is debatable, but theoretically the bigger batteries will also take longer to become useless after the cells lose all their capacity. (All of the wet/dry models will refuse to turn on when plugged in, to prevent people from running power cords into the shower.)
Ideally you should keep the shavers at around 80 percent of capacity for maximum battery life and definitely avoid running them down to empty, but modern Lithium Ion cells are pretty robust.
It’s sad that you can’t replace the batteries in these machines, given that with replacement foils they should work just fine for decades, but in the worst-case scenario (the power-hungry Panasonic Arc5) 300 cycles of full charging and discharging still theoretically works out to around 15 years of shaving time.
One unique feature of the Panasonic razors is that they will leave some reserve power in the battery, rather than just running all the way until dead. If you’re not paying attention to the blinking warning light, this will give you just enough reserve power to quickly finish your shave (and maybe one more shave after that) rather than just refusing to turn on.
We can’t tell how much power is left in the Braun lithium-ion shavers, but our guess is that Panasonic’s system is going to do a better job preserving battery life in the long run.
One issue with replacing foils is availability. We tested current-model shavers hoping that parts would be easy to find, but the cheapest blades right now are from a few years back. (Naturally, the manufacturers don’t say much about compatibility between model years.)
Top Pick: Panasonic - ES-LL41
After our previous top pick was discontinued (see the Panasonic – Arc3 ES-LT3N-K below), we found what seems to be the successor to that Arc3. This is the Panasonic – ES-LL41-K and it’s a great overall shaver. Although Panasonic is not branding it with the same Arc3 name, its design fits right into the Arc3 of their incredibly complex and continually changing lineup.
We’ve been using this Panasonic for over a year for both daily home use and travel use. It uses the same charging port as our previously tested Panasonic – Arc5 ES-LV95-S so we stowed away the extra charging cable while using both of these.Read more…
This Panasonic – ES-LL41-K is also more compact with two curved foil sections and a flat section on the head compared to 1 more of each on the Arc5. The drawback here is that there’s less shaving surface. It is only slightly noticeable that this indeed adds a few seconds to shaving time for us each morning so you may not even really notice unless you’ve come from a shaver with a larger head and are used to a quicker shave.
To clean this electric shaver, you can pinch two sides of the foil and it pops off. A waterproof design lets you add soap, brush and run it under water. You need to let it air dry, preferably in a warmer or sunlit location. We’ve noticed if you dry it too slowly it develops a smell. So cleaning is much like other wet/dry shavers we tested.
Traveling with this shaver is great. For our first few trips we’d bring the charger but quickly learned that even for a weeklong trip the battery is nowhere near hitting 0% so we stopped traveling with a charger.
Also the plastic cover for the shaving head stays locked on much tighther than the Arc5—the Arc5’s is so loose any slight bump in a drawer or toiletry bag and it comes off. We’d almost always find the cover fallen off in the drawer at home. But Panasonic got it right on this newer unit.
The ES-LL41-K shaver has a digital lock feature too, which requires you to hold down the power button for a few seconds. This style of lock makes it way less likely to be accidentally toggled while in a bag during transport. The older Arc5 we tested has a rotating switch which is much easier to accidentally toggle. However we should note it’s never accidentally triggered during transport. But this improved lock toggle, and more secure plastic head cover puts us way more at ease using this shaver for travel.
Budget pick: Braun - Series 3
We tested four razors that will cost you around $50, and the Braun – Series 3 is the only design we think is worth considering.
Braun’s engineering is represented well in the foil-type blades on the Series 3. The motor is clearly not as strong as the Series 7, and it’s possible that the blades are made differently. But given how similar these razors are, Braun has done a great job making this feel like a noticeable compromise without making it terrible. (We wish we could say the same for the other budget razors.)Read more…
Long stubble was the test that showed the most difference for us; the Series 3 is painful in four-day growth, the Series 7 isn’t. If you’re not as sensitive to this prickly feeling you might be 100 percent OK with it, but if you want to go for a weekend without shaving the Series 7 or Panasonic shavers are well worth the extra coin.
The Series 3 didn’t cut as close as the other shavers, even the weak-tea Series 5 managed to clean up stubble left behind by this budget model. That said, if you’re okay with a bit of scruff returning at the end of each day this might be a great razor for you.
Compact in size and with a blade cover that doubles as a sort-of button lock, this is a great shaver if you want something to stash in a bag or glove compartment. If the cover comes off in your gym bag when you stuff it in your locker, it’s still vulnerable to accidentally powering on, but we like the simplicity of the design.
The Braun – Series 3 isn’t as luxurious as their high-end stuff, but it’s the best $50 shaver we could find.
A compact hassle-free shaver that you won’t worry as much about losing at the gym.
If you let your stubble grow on occasion, stay away. It hurts.
The waterproof design is much easier to clean than old-school Braun shavers, still not as easy as the competition.
Panasonic - Arc5 ES-LV95-S
The Panasonic – Arc5 doubles-down on the multi-blade gimmick, and while it’s a functional improvement over the Arc3 is some ways, the head is so bulky it’s not a better shaver for most people.
In practice, we’re pretty sure we could get quicker shaves with the Arc5’s extra foils, and in testing it seemed to clean up a few spots of short micro-stubble left behind by the Arc3. Compared to the Braun – Series 7, we’d say this is an easy win for Panasonic in overall performance and even comfort.Read more…
The size of the head gets in the way, though, if you’re trying to shave around a moustache or even just around your nose. On the chin it’s a little bit better than other shavers just because you don’t have to run as many passes to get the whole surface, but under the jawline it’s hard to maneuver sideways to track against the grain for a close shave.
The price of the Arc5 is good compared to Braun’s top-end Series 9, so if you’re not trying to do anything tricky with detailed maneuvering this might be a better bet for the most luxurious shave you can get. For the rest of us, though, the price is just adding insult to a design that isn’t quite there.
Philips Norelco - 3800
The Philips Norelco – 3800 series is one of the company’s mid-tier offerings at around $80. Packaging is complex even with a custom designed plastic locking mechanism to hold it on display—so the unit looks better through the clear plastic display.
After testing many different electric razors, some details become apparent that we didn’t initially think would factor into what we like. We’ve become accustomed to the sound of the motors in some of these units. And upon powering on the 3800, this unit sounds very tinny and weak like a toy. Sure, it’s quiet but the rotary sounds on this unit didn’t instill confidence. We put it through the test for a few weeks.Read more…
No matter how many days into testing, this shaver snagged on hairs, and skin somewhat, it didn’t feel smooth nor did it get better over time. This seems to be common with rotary shavers, so if you’re not as sensitive as one of our testers in this regard it may be a non-issue for you. Snagging aside, shaving took a relatively long time compared to other units we tested.
There seems to be no real benefit of the adaptable 3-headed unit, or “5D” shaving this unit promises. The marketing angle seems to try to push sell us on hitting more angles at once comfortably but when it comes down to it, it didn’t improve total shave time. Whether or not the flexible and rotatable 3-shaver element head makes a different in comfort may be subjective but it didn’t make a huge difference for us. The snagging of the cut overtakes any comfort the “5d” cutting is supposed to provide.
The cover on it is very secure, almost too secure. We felt like we might break it snapping it on, but once it’s on it’s very secure. Since it’s a triangle shaped cover, it seems like it can almost snap on three different ways, but there are notches that match logos on the shaver, making it clear that it’s only meant to fit on one way. This makes it somewhat harder to snap back on each time vs other shavers that have a cover that fits on one out of two ways, or two out of two ways. Its design is not obvious at all, but once you learn the orientation you’ll be fine.
Closeness in shaving for this unit is good. I never thought to reach for another shaver to get it closer, so it’s close enough. The flexible heads doesn’t seem like it does any better of a job with closeness, but not any worse either. It does take more passes than we’d like to achieve a completed shave though.
For long stubble or around a 4-day shave, what already took many passes now took even more passes to cut. There were no spots it missed though. On my other non-rotary shavers when the hairs are too long I often have to switch to the sideburn trimming function to get those hairs. This shaver doesn’t have that feature but luckily I didnt need it. Overall this is a mid-tier priced shaver with many shortcomings in our eyes. If you are a fan of rotary shavers and can find this at a deal under $65, it may be more worthwhile.
Panasonic - Arc4 ES-LF51-A
Panasonic still sells a lot of these Arc4 shavers, but the middle child in the family has largely been forgotten. The extra foil doesn’t make as much difference for speedy shaving as the massive surface area on the Arc5 seems to, but when the price dips down to $75 (as it sometimes does) this might be worth considering for a slightly quicker shave than the Arc3.
Compared to the Arc5 the bulkiness of the Arc4’s head isn’t nearly as much a problem, but the battery life was still a bit disappointing. We had hoped that this might represent a good compromise between the Arc3 and the Arc5; it’s not a huge disappointment the way Braun’s Series 5 is, but it’s not a compelling choice, either.Read more…
There’s not any reason to buy this over the Arc3 unless you get a great deal on it. The Arc3 is still being developed and upgraded in Panasonic’s Japanese lineup, so it will likely be easier to find blades for the Arc3 in the long term. The Arc4 ES-LF51-A is a design from 2012, while it’s still “current” according to Panasonic’s U.S. sales people we wouldn’t bet on it staying that way for many more years.
Braun - Series 7 7020s
The Braun – 7 Series 7020s packaging was surprisingly simple to open, but this delight was not matched at any time during using this shaver. We should preface that as lovers of Braun shavers, we expected more from a shaver that retailed for $114.99 at the time we purchased it.
This unit beeps when charging—something we’ve never heard this from a shaver before during charging. Its lights all shut off once charge is full. Its full charge is just implied, but can be misleading. It would be much clearer if there was an icon showing 100% charge instead.Read more…
When putting this electric shaver through the paces for a few weeks, we thought initially that the sound of the shaver was pleasant. Doesn’t sound as cheap as the Philips Norelco 3800 we recently tested. The S7 felt grippy to the skin in a good way. Or at least we intially thought. The way it glides lets you move fast to repeatedly cover areas that may not have trimmed all the way, but ideally it would just trim them all with fewer passes.
However we quickly came to realize that there’s not a lot of cutting feedback maybe because of the vibration of the shaver. There’s a lot of motor motion and feel and it may even move left/right a bit on the face due to the motor vibration which I haven’t noticed on any other shaver. But there are lots of hairs this shaver misses. Since the loud shaver vibrates pretty noticeably on your skin the whole time, it masks the feel and sound of hair cutting, so it’s hard to know if you are still cutting missed hairs on subsequent passes. This means you really need to look and pay attention to what’s left on your face vs relying solely on the cutting sound or cutting feel–something we almost never have to do with other shavers.
We did not look forward to using this shaver daily. Cleaning this shaver is similar to other Braun units requiring just popping off the foil on top and brushing and rinsing off the rest of the parts, however there’s no obvious place to pinch and release the foil like on other models we’ve used. You have to clumsily pry the foil off and catch the foil because there’s no smooth way to operate this otherwise.
Closeness when shaving is good if you do the required ~3 passes, but again, you really need to pay attention and look at what you’re shaving to achieve this. We’re so used to practically shaving with our eyes closed and going off sound/cutting feedback to know when our face is smooth with other models. Long stubble (4 days+ of growth) expectedly took multiple passes to get all the hairs, about 5+ times which is similar to other shavers. But the overall shaving experience was not ideal for something that costs above $100. If you can ever get this shaver around $60 it might be a better deal, but otherwise we’d recommend one of our other picks.
Remington - PF-7600
The Remington – PF-7600 is a new design from this well-established brand, but it’s pretty much the worst shaver we tried. It won’t get any closer than the Braun – Series 3, whatever your hair type. A post-weekend shave with the Remington is pretty much a disaster. It doesn’t like grabbing the longer hairs, and when it does, it pulls on them.
If you take it slow and don’t let your stubble grow long, you can get an acceptable shave with the Remington that’s more comfortable on sensitive skin than a rotary-type like the Philips, but Braun is easily a better choice in this price range.
Philips - S8900 (discontinued)
The Philips – 8900, which retailed for around $185, gives the rotary enthusiast a few reasons to upgrade over an older entry-level model. But on the whole, we don’t think most people should buy this razor. If you’re looking to buy a rotary with a cleaning stand because you want to have a neat and functional way to store it on your countertop, this stand is every bit as good as the others we tried. It’s just as redundant, too, now that electric razors are designed to be waterproof, but it’s there if you want it.
The 8900 might get a tiny bit closer in a few spots than the modestly priced 4500 model. The “8 direction” pivoting head didn’t seem any different, though, and even if the motor spins slightly faster, this shaver was just as painful and ineffective in long stubble.Read more…
This shaver uses the top-end SH90 shaving heads (the same cutting parts as the 9000 series, but without the silly speed adjustment buttons) so we’re positive you won’t get better performance out of a rotary-type shaver.
For $100 this might be a worthwhile upgrade in closeness over the 4500, but for closer to $200 street price we’re just not convinced. It’s pretty, but most people should stay far away.
Andis - 17150 Profoil Lithium
Andis is a brand better known to barbers than to most of us, and the Profoil shaver has a long history cleaning up fades and necklines in some of the best barbershops in the country.
Retro styling aside, this shaver let us down in a few key areas. First, it’s not as close-trimming as the top-class shavers, though it will keep up with Braun in the $50 pack. Second, it’s disappointingly weak in longer stubble, an application we’d hoped it would be perfect for. Finally, the nail in the coffin is dry-shaving only: this is one of the last razors on the market that you can’t clean out by dunking the head while it’s running.Read more…
For a barber, this might still be a decent choice; it’s a simple machine and the replacement foils are the cheapest we found. For the rest of us who care about a close, comfortable shave, look elsewhere. Our sensitive-skinned tester managed to draw blood with this shaver, and that’s pretty much an automatic fail.
Panasonic - Arc3 ES-LT3N-K (discontinued)
At a street price hovering around $80, this isn’t a bargain razor by any stretch of the imagination. There are many, many brands competing in the under-$50 bracket, but Panasonic has fixed their sights on the under-$100 bracket instead, and they’ve hit the bullseye.
The Arc3 is the lowest rung on Panasonic’s ladder, though with the lack of updates to the Arc4 line that’s not as complicated as it used to be. This shaver has two foils and a stubble-whacking center trimming bar, just like most foil-type shavers. (Arc4 and Arc5 models add extra foils.)Read more…
Panasonic’s secret weapon has always been in the motor, and this shaver has that same strength. Fast, powerful, quiet. While the Braun shavers (even the spendy Series 7 and Series 9) sound like hair clippers, Panasonic’s shavers give a higher-pitched and much smoother whine, like an angry bumblebee to Braun’s runaway sewing machine.
In terms of closeness, the Arc3 can’t be beat. The bigger brothers, Arc4 and Arc5, have more foils which means they can theoretically cover more of your face in a hurry, but if you take your time to carefully follow the grain of your hair (which you have to do for a close shave anyway) the Arc3 trims just as close.
Panasonic lists their motor speed in “CPM,” which we assume to be two “cuts” per full revolution of the internal motor. The Arc3 lists at 13,000, while the two bigger models are 14,000.
Wet-shaving performance is also a win for the entire Panasonic line. You’ll have to rinse lather off the Arc3 more frequently than the Arc5, but it doesn’t smear the lather around your face the way Braun’s shavers do. Combining a slick shaving cream and the Arc3 is a luxe upgrade to your morning shave routine without the risk of nicks.
The Panasonic – Arc3 gives most faces the closest shave possible from an electric razor.
Panasonic’s motor design isn’t as buzzy as other brands, and the sonic vibration cleaning mode helps keep blades clean.
The aggressive shave isn’t as gentle on sensitive skin as the Braun Series 7, but at half the price it’s still better for most of us.
The travel lock requires a sequence of button presses, but it works.
Braun - Series 7 7865 (discontinued)
If the idea of “closest possible shave” makes your skin hurt, there are alternatives. Braun’s Series 7 7865 has been lauded as a great razor system by nearly everyone who tries it, and if it we weren’t considering price it would be tricky to justify picking anything else.
Our most sensitive-skinned tester said that, in comparison, the Panasonic – Arc3 felt like it was “very slightly snagging” on hairs, a tiny bit “scratchy.” The Braun shaves with a gentle, whirring caress. If you avoid blade-shaves because you don’t like the way they feel, that might be more than enough reason to cough up another $80 for the Braun.Read more…
Braun’s battery is also the best we tested, clocking in at 155 minutes of runtime to the Arc3’s 100. That probably means it will last a bit longer in the coming years, though neither shaver will work when plugged in after the battery goes kaput. (To prevent you from electrocuting yourself in the shower, they say.)
The one shortcoming of Braun’s careful engineering is the pop-up trimmer: the blade is curved, for some reason, and doesn’t seem especially effective when shaping sideburns. It’s not useless, but we found ourselves spending time with other trimmers cleaning up lines from the Series 7.
Braun includes a nice travel case that’s stiff (though not exactly rugged) and should protect it well on trips. Be sure not to lose the case, though, since there’s no travel lock to prevent your batteries dying during a flight. The charger is dual-voltage, too.
Should I buy the Braun cleaning stand?
Braun’s Series 5 and 7 models are often sold as “CC” versions, and this means you’ll get a cleaning and charging stand to go with your razor. The cost ranges from $15-50 more, and there aren’t any other differences. (Braun usually makes sure you can’t just mix and match by moving the charge port on the “Solo” models.)
Many shaver enthusiasts insist that the cleaning stand is an essential purchase with a Braun razor, and we think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In a past era when these shavers weren’t designed to be immersed in water, the use of an alcohol-based solution in the cleaning stand was doubtless a better way to keep the razor clean than trying to blow or rinse every last hair out of the cartridge yourself.
Now that the razors are designed to run wet, it’s pretty easy to spread some soap on the foil and run the shaver motor while the head is immersed, just as the cleaning stand does. We couldn’t see any difference between this cleaning method and the results from the stand.
The stand is a cool accessory if you want the shaver to loom over your bathroom countertop, but you can’t keep it in a drawer or cabinet. The refills are kind of annoying to deal with, and the cleaning process amplifies the normal buzzing sound of the shaver quite a bit. The way the thing starts and stops in cycles might even startle unsuspecting housemates early in the morning.
The big difference in long-term use is that the charging stand uses a solution of alcohol and oil that will keep the blade clean and lubricated while you’re not using it. Braun’s latest stands aren’t rapidly drying the shaver the way Panasonic’s stand does, but the alcohol solution evaporates quickly enough that it’s not a deal-breaker.
We’re not 100 percent convinced that the lubrication from the cleaning solution is required, but if you don’t want to buy the stand, some light mineral oil or cleaning spray can’t hurt, especially if you’re dry shaving.
If the solo model of the Series 7 came with at big discount we might tell you to forget about the stand entirely, but the sad truth is that Braun has made it hard to find them and the prices go up and down all the time.
Series 7 vs. other Braun models
Braun has four distinct lines of shavers: Series 3 for entry-level, 5 for an upgrade, 7 for people who want an even better shaver and Series 9 for people who want the best shaver possible.
We looked long and hard at the Series 9, and we don’t see much reason to spend an extra $100 on metallic platings and an extra “Hyperlift and Cut” trimmer bar. Plenty of people who spring for the upgrade are happy to say that it shaves closer and with less irritation, so if buying the best is worth $250 we say go for it. For the rest of us, Series 7 is already enough of a stretch that we’re happy with our pick.
The Series 5, on the other hand, is kind of disappointing. It’s louder and vibrates far more than the Series 7, definitely not the same class of motor. So far as we can tell the design and construction of the cutting heads is the same, you can even snap a Series 7 head onto the Series 5 body, but the comfortable shave of the Series 7 just wasn’t there anymore. If you’re okay sacrificing a little bit of comfort to save some money, Panasonic is a much better bet.
The Series 3 is the only real competition in Braun’s lineup; for $100 less you still get a decent shave.
Braun’s Series 7 is easily the most respected shaver line of all time, and we agree that it shaves exceptionally well.
If your follicles scream in terror when you think about “lift and cut,” this is the smoothest, kindest shaving experience we found.
Braun’s replacement cartridges are fairly easy to track down even at local stores.
Long stubble is no sweat for the S7, though Panasonic’s shavers get a bit closer.
The cleaning station is kind of unnecessary, but the solo model is often just as expensive.
Braun – Series 5 5190cc (discontinued)
The Braun – Series 5 is like the Series 7, but weaker. So far as we can tell, the blades are made the same way and might even be entirely compatible, but the motor is slower and vibrates so much it actually makes this bit of a downgrade from the Series 3. One of our testers compared it to “a medical device geared to stimulate blood flow.”
The new solo model 5147s is harder to find and lists for $120; we bought the 5190 with cleaning stand for $115 and it’s probably going to remain the best value for this series. This gives a reasonably close shave, like the Series 7, but it struggles to clean up long stubble without tugging. For a $40 discount, that’s a tricky tradeoff to make. When we put it against the less-expensive Panasonic Arc3, though, it just seems a bit sad.Read more…
The battery life in the Series 5 is definitely a step up from budget shavers, but it’s still not replaceable and the waterproof design still won’t turn on when it’s plugged in. Cleanup is the same as all the Braun models: use the stand if you have it, or give it an extra turn in the sink once a week to make sure nothing is stuck inside that mostly enclosed blade cartridge.
Philips - 4500 (discontinued)
The popularity of rotary-foil shavers like the Philips – Aqua-Tech 4500 is tricky to explain. For some, this is simply the only kind of electric razor they’ve ever tried. For others with flat-lying hairs that grow in a swirled pattern, it might be a shaver that actually works better than the straight-cutting foil types.
For most people, the big distinction is going to be maneuverability and performance on sensitive faces or in long stubble. In our tests, the rotary shavers just weren’t very good, and there was little (if any) difference between the mid-tier shaver 4500 and up-scale model 8900.Read more…
One of our testers (yes, the Braun fan-boy) insisted that he felt so much pain from the rotary shavers that they can’t possibly be working properly. We double-checked with our other tester, and we don’t think they’re broken, but they’re definitely not for everyone. For long stubble (still short enough that running over it with clippers didn’t make much difference) everyone agrees that the pulling and grabbing from a rotary isn’t worth it.
That said, our second tester did find that both of the rotary designs cleaned up short hard-to-get stubble on his neck even better than the Panasonic shavers. We’re not sure if the “lift and cut” of the Philips design is working better than the straight foils, or if it’s just easier to grab tricky hairs with an equally tricky razor.
The overall closeness was a wash; the triangular pattern doesn’t lend itself to tracking against straight grain in passes, so Philips recommends using a circular pattern instead. This works in some spots, not in others; under the nose or along sideburns it’s a real pain.
One detail that pushes the 4500 ahead of its big brother is the trimmer attachment; the 8900 requires you to swap the shaver head for a “SmartClick” trimmer head, while the 4500 uses the always-ready pop-up style like most shavers. This way you won’t ever accidentally bring your trimmer on a trip instead of your shaver.
Maybe the most interesting feature of the rotary systems is that you can completely disassemble them for cleaning and maintenance. The rotary drive system is also extremely quiet in comparison to the back-and-forth buzz of other shavers.
The 4500 has just as many strengths as the 8900, but if you hate the feel of a rotary shaver you’ll probably hate all of them, and our tester who didn’t mind the feel doesn’t think the increase in closeness is worth $80.
The Philips – 4500 is a rotary shaver that will give good performance for tricky hair growth.
Easy to clean and maintain, the 4500 has a hinged head for hassle-free rinsing.
Almost as good as a more expensive rotary, at a much better price.
This pop-up sideburn trimmer is always better than a snap-on accessory that doesn’t even fit in the travel case.
One of our testers felt discomfort when shaving with any rotary shavers, including this one.
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Daniel Jackson, Writer
Daniel is a Canadian farm boy who grew up to be a nerd with a literature degree and too many hobbies to count. He emigrated from Canada to California in 2013, and now writes for Your Best Digs full-time. Daniel remains unapologetic about Canadian spelling, serial commas, and the destruction of expensive travel mugs.