Despite all the marketing hype about advanced features, choosing the right electric shaver hinges on one critical decision: Rotary or foil? Although the two types get you to the same goal -- a smooth, clean face or head -- they do so by very different means.
Rotary shavers use spinning circular blades, which flex in their housing to accommodate the contours of your face. Because each blade on a rotary shaver swivels independently, these shavers may do a better job than foil shavers at following the contours of your face and neck.
Rotary shavers tend to be quieter than foil shavers, handle longer hairs better, and offer the advantage of letting you shave in almost any direction -- up and down, side to side, or even moving the shaver in circles.
Foil shavers have oscillating blades hidden behind thin, perforated steel foils. The foils lift your facial hair (or any hair, really) up to the blades for a close shave. Most of the foil shavers we evaluated have three or four blades, although the travel models have just two rotating cutting heads or, in one case, a single foil. The number of blades determines the size of the shaving head and, in theory, the speed of your shave.
However, 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, four foil screens but only three blades behind them. This is not an issue with any of the shavers we evaluate in this report, but it's something to watch for with off-brand models.
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 and can struggle to cut longer hairs.
Of course, neither foil nor rotary shavers can shave quite as close as manual razors -- but the best models get pretty close. See our report on razors for reviews of the best manual models.
Some reviews suggest that rotary shavers work better for men with dense hair and round faces, while foil shavers are better suited for men with light hair and thin faces. But in the end, your personal preferences trump these broad generalities.
That's why it's so important to take advantage of the 30-day (or better) money-back guarantee offered with any name-brand shaver. It takes about that long for your face to adjust to any new shaver, so stick it out with a new shaver for at least a few weeks if you can -- you may see a major difference in results as your skin and beard adapt.
Although name-brand shavers from Braun, Panasonic and Philips Norelco -- all of which dominate at least one category in this report -- cost more than other models, experts say the quality of their shave and construction justifies a higher price tag. These brands consistently outrank budget brands in comfort, ease of use, performance and durability, making them better values in the long run.
The name-brand shavers in this report are all backed by a two-year warranty -- a good thing, because every single shaver has its share of durability concerns, usually related to battery life in one way or another. Shaver companies aren't known for their great customer service, although the rate of complaints seems to have eased off significantly over the last couple of years.
Overall, we found that the best electric shavers -- the ones that will give you a close, clean shave without ruining your hearing or yanking your beard out one hair at a time -- cost anywhere from $100 to $250, with yearly maintenance costs that range from $20 to $230 depending on the shaver and what sort of cleaning stand it has (if any). We discuss upkeep costs more thoroughly in the Buyer's Guide section of this report.