Rotary razors are popular with lots of men, but experts say that the nature of your face and beard play a large role in determining whether one is right for you. We noted some of the advantages of rotary shavers in the introduction to this report, but experts say they have some significant drawbacks for some users. Where foil shavers, such as the Braun Series 7 790cc (Est. $165) are an appropriate choice for almost any face, the nature of your beard can dictate your level of happiness with a rotary shaver. Dan Koeppel at TheSweethome.com notes that those with thick, strong beards, and without a history of ingrown hair, will find the slightly quieter operation and contour-following ability of a rotary to be an appropriate choice, but others will be significantly less pleased.
If you determine that a rotary shaver is what you want, Philips Norelco is far and away the category leader; no other brand makes the cut, so to speak, in expert and user reviews.
The current top of the line model is the Philips Norelco Shaver 9700 (Est. $320), but we recommend bypassing that shaver and opting for the step-down Philips Norelco Shaver 9300 (Est. $200) instead. It's roughly $100 cheaper and is spec for spec identical except for two features. One is that the 9700 includes an advanced progress display that shows the battery life remaining as a percentage rather than the five-level indicator in the 9300. The 9700's cleaning system also will display where the razor is in its self-cleaning SmartClean cycle, something that the SmartClean system in the 9300 can't do. And outside of cosmetic differences (the 9700 is black, while the 9300 is blue), that's pretty much it. The shaving system and self-cleaning system, minus the advanced display options, are otherwise identical, and so should be performance.
Expert reviews of these shavers are slim, at least at the sites we consider to be most credible. Adam Clark Estes at Gizmodo tries out the 9700 and says that it "gave me the closest shave of my life." At Moo.Review, Adam Vegas agrees that "the shaver cuts incredibly close." He adds, however, that there's a learning curve to getting that close shave; among other things, "it required a steady hand and intense concentration for your upper lip and going close to your sideburns," he says.
According to Estes, the key to the closeness of the shave is a change in the Philips Norelco blade technology. The company has replaced the older flat blades with V-shaped ones that are said to cut 30 percent closer. While Estes wonders a little about the accuracy of that claim, he concedes that the 9700 provided a closer shave, and one without nicks or skin irritation. He also appreciates that the shaver is waterproof, adding "I used shaving cream in the shower which definitely helped with the smoothness factor." If you are most interested in a wet/dry shaver, the Philips Norelco is one to consider, but first check out some other choices in our section on wet/dry shavers.
But while Estes is pretty pleased with the Philips Norelco shaver's performance, he does take a pretty healthy shot at the SmartClean stand and recommends against even using it (it's not required for charging the Philips Norelco 9000 series shavers). He says that the stand is poorly designed, un-intuitive to use (at least for those that like to avoid reading manuals at all costs), that it's prone to spilling the cleaning solution if jostled, and that drying time is "excessive." Vegas concurs regarding drying time, adding that in his tests, it took almost four hours.
User reviews for the Philips Norelco 9000 series are more limited than we see for some of the more popular foil razors, but with more than 665 posted for the Shaver 9300 at Amazon.com alone, there is more than enough feedback to gauge user satisfaction. Overall, it is pretty good; the Philips Norelco Shaver 9300 earns a 4-star rating at Amazon.com. Elsewhere, though feedback is less, satisfaction is even higher -- for example, a 4.6-star rating at BestBuy.com following 80 reviews, with 93 percent giving it a recommendation.
Those looking to spend less for a rotary shaver -- or any shaver for that matter -- might also want to consider the Philips Norelco Shaver 4100 (Est. $60). It's a big step down in performance and features compared to the Series 9000 shavers, however. It uses older style lift and cut blades (not the V blades found in the Philips top-of-the line shavers) and uses a floating rather than a pivoting head. There's no cleaning function, not a huge loss according to some feedback, and no charging stand. Like all Philips Norelco rotary models, this is a wet/dry shaver.
We found no testing-based feedback from reliable experts, but user reviews are sufficient to get a handle on satisfaction. In nearly 2,300 user reviews at Amazon.com, the electric razor earns a 4.2 star rating, while at Best.Buy.com, it earns a score of 4.4 stars based on almost 525 reviews, with recommendations from 92 percent of owners. We see complaints, of course, including comments gripes that shaving with the Shaver 4100 takes longer than what's ideal, but most users seem happy enough with performance, noise level (relative to other shavers) and, especially, the value.
Philips Norelco shavers are covered by a 45-day money-back guarantee and a two-year warranty.