The Braun Series 7's cleaning and charging system is typical of those available for our other picks. A large docking station holds the shaver, head down. Inserting the shaver starts a process that includes charging and evaluating how much cleaning the shaver needs. Once that's determined, the docking unit immerses the shaver in cleaning fluid—this comes in consumable cartridges, and each lasts about three months—and then cleans the shaver and conditions the blades (if you choose to clean manually, you'll have to condition the blades yourself with a purpose-built solution, like Remington's Shaver Saver).
You'll need to replace the foil on your shaver more or less annually, depending on use. Series 7 foils generally run about $30.
All Braun shavers include a two-year warranty, which covers everything but the foil and cutting block.
Upgrade pick: Braun Series 9
While the Series 7 is powerful enough for most shaving situations, Braun's Series 9 is the top-performing shaver we've tried that we find worth the additional expense—at least for certain situations. If you have particularly curly or coarse hair, or wish to shave less frequently but achieve the same level of closeness, this may be the shaver for you.
At first glance, the biggest difference between the Series 9 and the Series 7 is size. Though the razors weigh the same—about 7.6 ounces each—the Series 9 is longer, has more girth, and is more top-heavy, thanks to its quadruple-headed shaving mechanism. That four-way head sticks to the company's traditional two-foil design but adds a pair of cutting mechanisms—a "direct & cut" trimmer and a "hyper-lift & cut" trimmer—that the company claims better snag wiry, unruly whiskers.
Most of our testers agreed that the Series 9 is an amazing shaver. When I tried it on my three-day beard, I found that it worked better than any electric shaver I'd ever used—though it paled in comparison to a standard blade when confronted with my iron curtain of a half-week's whiskers.
That extra power and performance come at a dollar and design cost. Series 9 razors are notably bulkier than Series 7 razors, and some testers found the Series 9 razors tough to maneuver in the tight spots (like the equally ginormous Panasonic Arc5, which the Braun somewhat mimics).
Braun's Series 9 clean-and-charge base uses the same cartridges as the Series 7 (and all other Braun shavers) and is functionally identical. Replacement cartridges last about three months and cost about $25 for a four-pack. Replacement foils are considerably more expensive for the Series 9; they currently run about $50, compared with about $30 for the Series 7.
Budget pick: Remington F5-5800
Among electric razors under $50, the Remington F5-5800 outperformed lower-end Braun and Panasonic models in our testing. Each of our testers said it gave a sufficiently close shave.
The F5-5800 has the look of a Braun clone and uses a proven dual-foil system with a center lift-and-cut trimmer mated to a pivoting head. Although there's no cleaning system available, you can easily rinse the shaver under running water.
The battery life is about 60 minutes, a bit less than the Braun's, but it's more than enough for most owners, even when you're traveling. Remington's replacement foils are half the price of Braun's and Panasonic's (though you may have to replace them more often—not because they're any less durable, but because the Remington comes only with a cheap plastic head protector that's easily lost).
The Remington offers generally good performance, but you'll likely find the shaving experience itself to be buzzier and potentially more irritating if you don't maintain a very light touch.
As with the more expensive Braun models, this Remington comes with a two-year warranty. Remington recommends annual replacement of the shaver's cutting block and foil, which are sold as a combo pack for about $20.
Also great: Philips Norelco Shaver 9300
For most people, foil-style electric razors typically provide a closer shave. But if you prefer a rotary-style shaver, we recommend the Philips Norelco Shaver 9300, which includes a cleaning system.
Like the Braun models, these shavers are marketed in series. If you can't find the 9300, get whichever 9000 series model is cheapest. In 2019, we tested the latest model, the S9000 Prestige (pictured), which includes a digital battery meter—a nonessential upgrade—but, unlike the 9300, doesn't include a cleaning system. It shaves the same as the 9300 does.
The 9300 can be unwieldy. The trimmer is a separate attachment that requires removing the floating head. And because the triple-headed shaver isn't as compact as a foil shaver, it needs a larger case, which will take up more space in your luggage.
Philips Norelco doesn't integrate cleaning systems across its model line like Braun does, and though we think the brand's cleaning bases work well, they're a little unwieldy to use compared with Braun's, and cleaning cartridge replacements are harder to come by.
Because of their shape, Philips Norelco razors need to be held in the cleaning base by a kind of stalk-like support, which means an extra step of inserting the razor. You'll have to decide whether the convenience is worth it; maintaining your shaver manually with the included cleaning brush is certainly easy enough.
The 9300 requires annual cutter replacement. The shaver includes an indicator to let you know when the time comes, and the cutters cost about $50.
All Philips Norelco shavers come with a two-year warranty.
Use, care, and maintenance
An electric razor needs break-in time—not for the razor, but for your face. If you're switching from a manual to an electric, or even from one electric style to another, you'll generally need to give your skin two weeks to adjust to the new tool. We couldn't figure out exactly why this break-in period is needed. Is it your face? Your shaving style? The razor itself? Different sources give different answers, ranging from new-user error to the need to "train" skin as it adjusts from healing the scrapes caused by a manual razor to the pulling and shearing mechanisms of electrics.
We did a literature search and found no academic research on the topic, though in our experience, the break-in period is real. Your first electric shaves will be patchy and probably painful, and you shouldn't touch things up with a manual razor (which defeats the purpose of the break-in period). All major shaver makers offer a 30- to 60-day money-back guarantee, and we recommend that you give your new shaver time to reach peak performance—but don't be shy about requesting that refund if it doesn't.
To get the smoothest, most comfortable electric shave, no matter which shaver you choose, you'll need to remember that electrics can't easily get as close as a blade. Most electric shaver makers offer advice on how to get the optimal shave. Unfortunately, that advice sometimes conflicts. Braun, for example, suggests shaving first thing in the morning ("We recommend that you shave before you wash, since the skin tends to be slightly swollen after washing."). Philips says to wash but not shower ("...otherwise your skin will be hot, puffy..."). Our testers used different techniques. I've dabbled with electric razors most of my adult life, and my technique is based mostly on saving time. Since I have two kids, I'm always in a rush first thing in the morning; when I'm using a manual razor, I shave in the shower. But with an electric shaver, I wait to shave during a calmer moment midmorning.
No matter when you shave, be sure to follow some basic-technique tips. Men's Health UK offers a fairly extensive tutorial, but the takeaway is: Go lightly. Don't press those cutting blades into your skin. Instead, gently pull the skin taut with one hand and let the razor glide over your face in slow, steady strokes; experiment with circular motions and straight strokes, and going with or against the grain (you're looking for the perfect balance of closeness and post-shave comfort). All of the razors we recommend have pivoting heads, so maintaining a proper angle is easy, but if you're using a shaver with a fixed head (like a Wahl), make sure to hold the head at a right angle to your skin. Nearly every shaver manufacturer—in a tacit admission that these devices don't really shave as close as a blade—recommends that you snag your longest, toughest facial hairs first, using the shaver's built-in trimmer. Several of our testers said they used a manual razor to get those hairs at the end of the shave, which to us felt kind of like a "what's the point?" proposition.
One question we've been asked a lot is whether to use a pre-shave. The best known of these is Williams Lectric Shave, an alcohol-based solution that helps "the shaver glide with less irritation." It used to claim—see this advertisement from a 1982 issue of Field & Stream—that it made a "beard stand up." How much this actually happens isn't easy to establish, and I was the only tester who actually uses and likes a pre-shave. The magic ingredient in most pre-shaves is isopropyl myristate, a synthetic oil created by compounding alcohol and a fatty acid. Combined, the two provide lubrication (the substance is also a key ingredient in Liquid Wrench) without a greasy feeling, so claims that they help an electric razor to glide are probably credible.
Although I don't use Lectric Shave—it smells too much like my Uncle Larry's bathroom—my preferred pre-shave, Kyoku for Men Electric Pre-Shave Optimizer, contains that key ingredient, which I find does make my skin feel smoother and more taut for shaving. Other pre-shaves include powders, which are effective but messy, according to Amazon customer reviews, and thicker creams (like in Mennen's Afta), which tend to gunk up the shaver, making it tougher to clean.
You can use shavers in the shower, but a dry face is generally recommended to get the smoothest electric shave. We found that using shaving cream made for a foil-clogging, extra-gooey experience. Using shaving cream is likely going to increase the amount of time you spend shaving, if you want to reach the closeness you'd get going dry.
Most shavers are rinsable, and you can easily clean them under water with a quick brush of the foils. Some, like the Braun Series 7 models we recommend, come with cleaning stations. Generally, replacement cleaning cartridges last about three months and cost $5 each, if you buy them in four-packs. You should also follow the manufacturer's instructions for replacing foils and cutting blocks. Braun recommends replacement every 18 months (the block and foil come as a single unit, running about $30 for the Series 7 and $50 for the Series 9); Philips Norelco and Remington recommend annual replacement.
One warning for on-the-go shavers: The foil heads found on most electric units are fragile, and if you dent or bend one, you'll need to replace it. Most shavers come with some kind of case or shaving-head protector. It's a good idea to use it.
Like Braun, Panasonic offers razors in series with and without cleaning units. The company's top-of-the-line series, the Panasonic Arc5, includes a total of five blades—a quartet of foils and a single oscillating lift-and-cut center trimmer. Like the Braun Series 9, the Panasonic Arc5 is a bulky unit, and some of our testers found the oversize heads difficult to maneuver, especially around the mustache area. And overall, we found that despite the extra shaving heads each of them comes with, neither the Arc5 nor the Panasonic Arc4—basically the same shaver, but with one less foil—shaved as well as the comparable Brauns.
Another negative was the glossy black finish found on most Panasonics. It was a "fingerprint magnet," one tester reported, adding that "it looked undesirably dirty after use." Our testers found, however, that manually cleaning the Panasonic models—without a cleaning system—was much easier than manually cleaning the Braun models. The foil and heads of the Panasonic units pop off with an easy button push, exposing the cutting blocks for quick rinsing.
We tried Philips Norelco's lower-end rotary models but found that the brand's 9000 series performed better, and it was so closely priced that it was a better buy for most people. In our experience, the 3000 and 4000 series razors didn't shave closely enough to be worth their bargain prices. However, one member of our test panel has been using a 4000 series for years, and they still love it, even after trying much more expensive models.
If the 9300 is unavailable or you're shopping for an even-more-budget rotary, we recommend you opt for any Philips Norelco model rather than one of the many inexpensive—and face-mangling—three- or four-headed knockoffs popular on Amazon and eBay.
We initially wanted to look at Wahl's legendary 5 Star shaver; the maroon-colored model is beloved by barbers, who have nicknamed it "The Brick." But since it's generally sold via pro barber-supply sources, we opted for a close cousin, the company's Custom Shave. The Custom Shave is about as generic-looking an electric shaver as you can find—a tapered hunk of black plastic, with a non-floating head and an on/off switch. It comes with a trio of interchangeable foils: one for standard closeness, one for sensitive skin, and another for "ultra closeness." The foils are visibly different—smaller holes mean a less-aggressive shave—and Wahl spokesperson Steven Yde recommends that owners "never begin with the ultra head." Yde warns: "It will eat you alive." A couple of our testers really liked the basic look and feel of the Wahl and found that the shaver cut powerfully and smoothly. That said, you can't clean the Wahls under water (you use a brush), and they don't have a terribly good reputation for longevity, according to Amazon customer reviewers.
We've also tried a few oddball electric razors. These include Hitachi's well-regarded but not-available-in-the-US S-Blade RM160, a shaver that features a unique cutting technology that's a sort of foil-rotary hybrid: There's a rotating blade underneath a foil head; the cutter spins like an old-fashioned push lawn mower, rather than lying flat, as the car-wax-buffer-like disc on Philips rotaries do. We also tested the sub-$10 Aokai T01 and the sub-$10 Kemei Classical Multifunction Model 5600. These cheapies showed us that technology and craftsmanship do matter and that there's a limit to how low in price a shaver should go. Both of these models dip significantly beneath that waterline, though the Kemei gets a few goofball style points because it 1) has a fake, stitched-leather finish; 2) looks like an oversize cigarette lighter; and 3) has a built-in mirror (we especially loved the built-in mirror—what a great idea, we thought, except, of course, that you can't actually look into it while you're shaving).
Finally, simply for style—they're gorgeous—we bought a couple of vintage shavers on eBay: an original Schick from the 1930s, as well as Ronson and Remington models from the 1960s. As lovely as these vintage shavers are, electric shavers require regular maintenance, so buying a used one is generally a dead end because replacement parts simply aren't available.
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