Foil shavers use oscillating blades behind perforated foil screens. The foil lifts your facial hair (or any hair, really) closer to the blades for a close shave. Most of the foil shavers we evaluated have four blades, which seem to be the sweet spot, although one of the best-reviewed models has just three. The number of blades is a function of speed -- more blades should, in theory, help you complete your shave faster -- but it also determines the size of the shaving head.
Bigger isn't always better; if a foil razor's shaving head gets too big, it can be hard to maneuver over the contours of a smaller face and neck. Every once in a while, you might come across a shaver that has blind screens -- for example, a shaver that has four foil screens, but only three blades behind them; one of the screens is empty. This is not an issue with any of the shavers we evaluate in this report, but it is more likely to be a problem with off-brand shavers.
Experts say that the secret to getting a clean shave with a foil electric razor is making long, straight passes with the shaving head. Higher-end foil shavers come with a spring-loaded head, which flexes to help maintain just the right amount of pressure on each pass. In general, reviewers agree that foil shavers give the best shave of all electric shavers; however, they also tend to be relatively loud.
Shaver manufacturers are engaged in an arms race of sorts, each vying to make their products suitable for the widest range of skin and hair types. Braun's solution is offering three adjustable shave settings on their Series 7 foil shavers: The 720s-4 (*Est. $180), the top-of-the-line 790cc-4 (*Est. $235), and the 760cc-4 (*Est. $200), which is similar to the 790cc-4 except for its display screen and a slower cleaning cycle. (The 790cc-4 and 760cc-4 come with cleaning stands; the 720s-4 does not.)
The three settings range from sensitive to intense. Users aren't sure whether intense setting works better for coarse beards, one says it tugs at his skin, but they report that the sensitive setting is notably gentler. Overall, they say, the Series 7 shavers provide a smooth, close shave for every skin type, even the most sensitive. "My face right now feels so shockingly smooth, I'd swear I shaved with a blade this morning," says one Amazon.com user. Although they lack the personalization features of the Series 7 shavers, the Panasonic Arc IV ES8249S (*Est. $155) and ES8243A (*Est. $150 to $130) both feature a spring loaded head that allows you to get the right amount of pressure while shaving.
The Braun Series 7 shavers are the line of razors that experts focus on in this category. That doesn't mean that users and experts aren't enthusiastic about other models. Frequent ingrown hair sufferers shaving with the Panasonic ESLA63S (*Est. $160 to $200) say it makes the skin problem a nonissue. In general, the Panasonic shavers reviewed in this report get praise from men with sensitive skin for their gentle handling. This could be because they are all wet/dry shavers which tend to be better for sensitive skin. The Braun Series 7 is strictly a dry shaver.
The Braun Series 7 760cc-4 draws particular praise for being able to handle both sensitive skin and a tough, coarse beard that grows in different directions. It also receives the highest ranking in tests by a major consumer research organization. (The other Series 7 shavers weren't tested, but instead received the same rank by default because of their similarity.) Tough, coarse beards can be a challenge for any shaver, but reviewers note that might be especially challenging for the Panasonic Arc IV ES8249S. Though about 300 Amazon users say they are perfectly happy with this shaver, there are also reports about long shave times and mixed reviews about taking off multiple day growths. This shaver has some great performance features, however, such as the ability to shave in wet/dry conditions.
Each of the Braun Series 7 shavers has a 10,000 vibrations-per-minute Pulsonic feature, designed to lift hairs so they're more easily cut. In comparison, the Panasonic's ESLA63S boasts a 14,000 rpm vibration, and the Arc IV ES8243A (*Est. $150 to $130) runs at 13,000 RPM.
Users say that the banana-shaped Braun Series 7 shavers feel better in the hand than their bar-of-soap-shaped predecessors. The head tilts slightly inward to give you a better shaving angle, and reviewers like the rubberized outer covering on the handle; one Amazon.com reviewer says the Series 7 shavers are easier to keep hold of with wet hands than high-end Panasonic and Norelco shavers. These models are not without their own praises from happy users. Panasonic ESLA63S also has rubberized coating on the back of the shaver to insure a secure grip whether hands are wet or dry.
But this doesn't save the ESLA63A from criticism about aesthetics and design. These negativities come from those who think this shaver doesn't deliver enough quality for the price. "Looks a bit too plasticky," one says. Although some users say they cannot get a good shave with the Panasonic ES8243A, those same users compliment its construction and design. As one otherwise critical owner writes: "I would say that Panasonic hit another home run. It's well made, easy to hold, and I like the floating head design."
But one cannot choose a shaver by aesthetics alone. Besides the weighty performance factor, the shaver needs to be easy to charge, needs to hold a charge and needs to be easy to clean since all of these things contribute to how close a shave you'll get.
Efficient charging and the length of the charge come up in most reviewers' comments. Series 7 shavers are supposed to run for about 50 minutes after a 60-minute charging period, although we found reports that they sometimes exceed the predicted run time. Reviewers also say that shaving performance doesn't decline when you run these shavers off the battery instead of off a plug. The ESLA63A also charges in about an hour, and it continues to shave at full power until the battery runs out completely, instead of slowly fading with the battery charge. Unlike the Series 7, the Panasonic ESLA63A and Arc IV ES8243A's cannot be used while charging. In addition, reports say the ESLA63A doesn't live up to the promise of holding a charge for 45-minutes.
Cleaning stands are a common cause of complaint for other shavers, but users and experts report that the Braun Series 7 cleaning base (760cc-4 and 790cc-4 only) works very well. Just drop the shaver in, head facing down. The base automatically detects which cleaning cycle is needed, then waits for you to press GO. This is more advanced than the Panasonic Arc IV ES8249S cleaning base, which most call unnecessary or gimmicky. In addition, the unit takes more than an hour to clean and dry the shaver. But the base's cleaning functionality may not be a deal-breaker since we found numerous user comments expressing a preference for cleaning the shaver manually, using the cleaning base occasionally or not at all.
This could be why some say they chose the Panasonic Arc IV ES8243A shaver. It's easy to clean under the faucet; no need to mess with a fiddly cleaning station. However, some say they miss having a charging stand or cradle to hold the shaver upright when it's not in use, and end up just placing it on the counter because they don't have anywhere else to put it. The major complaint concerns the travel case that comes with these shavers: They don't have room for the shaver's power cord.
Noise may be one of the most subjective measures of any electric shaver's performance. Experts say the Braun Series 7 shavers are a little quieter than other higher-end models; they receive one of the highest (that is, best) ratings for noise in tests from a major consumer research organization. A number of users, on the other hand, say these shavers aren't the quietest. It's unclear how much of the general noise criticism is tied to the cleaning station instead of the razor.
On the other end of the noise spectrum sits the Panasonic Arc IV ES8243A. As one Amazon.com reviewer writes: "I found this shaver to be screechy loud." Others qualify their observations of the noise level: "It's not loud, but it's noisier than some other electrics I tried." Another Panasonic model, the Arc IV ES8249 receives similar feedback on its noise levels. However, ElectricShaverGuide describes its noise level as "relatively normal," and in the accompanying video review, the sound level comes across as moderate. As for the other Panasonic foil shaver in this review, the ES63LA, the jury is completely split over whether it is loud or not.
The Series 7 shavers are among the most expensive shavers in this report (*Est. $180 to $235), but owners say that reasonable costs for replacement parts help make the purchase price worth it over time. Cleaning cartridges cost about $13 for three, and replacement blade/foil cassettes, which only need to be replaced every 18 months, cost about $32. The total cost of ownership is estimated at $60 per year. In comparison, the estimated yearly cost of ownership for Panasonic's ES63LA, Arc IV ES8243A and Arc IV ES8249 is $70, $80 and $95, respectively.
All three of the Braun Series 7 shavers are backed by a two-year limited warranty (foil and cutter excluded), and they come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, the best that we've encountered. Panasonic offers a two-year limited warranty on its shavers and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Although all three of the Braun Series 7 shavers are essentially similar, the Series 7 760cc-4 stands out as the best value. It comes with the helpful (if loud) cleaning station for about $20 more than the 720s-4, but it saves you $35 -- enough for your first replacement cassette -- over the 790cc-4. If you're willing to pay a little more for nifty features, the 790cc-4 has a faster cleaning cycle and an upgraded LCD display, but it is otherwise the same as the 760cc-4.