Although Braun's foil shavers receive the best reviews overall, they're only meant for a dry shave (no shaving cream or lotion). Every Panasonic foil shaver we evaluate in this report is a wet/dry model; you can use these shavers with a shaving cream or lotion (wet), with no cream or lotion (dry) or take the shaver into the shower with you. (That's not the case for all wet/dry shavers.)
Although a few users prefer dry shaves, most comment favorably on the smooth shave they get from grooming during or just after a shower, and those with sensitive skin usually benefit from using a shaving lotion or cream. Having the option of choosing means you can fine-tune the shaving experience to suit your skin and hair type, or how much time you have for grooming on a particular day.
Panasonic's wet/dry/shower versatility may be one reason why users with sensitive skin flock toward these shavers. We found comments from users with a tendency toward acne or ingrown hair that their Panasonic shavers -- including the ESLA63S (*Est. $160 to $200) and ESLA93K (*Est. $200), Arc IV ES8243A (*Est. $150 to $130), Arc IV ES8249S (*Est. $155) and the best-reviewed Panasonic Vortex ES8109S (*Est. $100) -- don't aggravate these sensitive skin conditions.
However -- experts warn that there's no such thing as a one-size-fits all electric razor -- the Panasonic Arc IV ES8249S draws split opinions about how it handles coarse beards. One Amazon.com reviewer reports that when used on several days' worth of beard growth, this shaver "literally rips the odd hair out of your face. OUCH!" Another says that the ES8249S had no problem mowing through several days of hair growth with its four sharp blades and 14,000 rpm linear motor, although some users report slow shave times.
Users say that the Panasonic Arc IV ES8243A sometimes leaves stray hairs behind and can struggle with coarse neck hair, but its four blades and 13,000 rpm motor can mow through several days of coarse beard growth with little or no irritation.
We didn't find any specific comments about performance with coarse beards regarding the four-bladed, 14,000 rpm Panasonic ESLA63S (and by extension the ESLA93K, which is the same shaver plus a cleaning station), but we did find a few complaints that the ESLA63K sometimes leaves a few stray hairs behind too, even after multiple passes.
Although the Panasonic Vortex ES8109S -- the only three-bladed wet/dry foil shaver in this report -- is a darling of the fine-bearded, sensitive-to-normal-skin crowd, it seems to do well with most hair types; we didn't find much in the way of negative comments about how it handles coarse beards.
Three of the Panasonic wet/dry models we evaluate here -- the Vortex ES8109S, Arc IV ES8249S and ESLA93K -- come with a cleaning/charging station that doubles as a charging cradle. Some users and experts love the idea of a convenient cleaning station, but many say that in practice, the cleaning station is "unnecessary," "gimmicky," or simply wasteful. Quite a few opt to clean their shavers manually; they say it's fairly quick and easy .For users with the Arc IV ES8249S and ESLA63S, manual cleanings are the only option.
These Panasonic models draw universal praise for their easy-grip rubberized coatings that make them easy to hold onto in the shower. Users say these shavers are comfortable to hold, and the adjustable, tilting heads are a big hit with just about everybody. Reviewers say Panasonic shavers charge quickly, but they aren't thrilled that you can't shave in corded mode while the shaver is charging. An hour of charging yields about 45 minutes of shave time, and a five-minute quick-charge cycle gives you three to five minutes of shave time.
That said, even those who are otherwise negative about Panasonic's wet/dry foil shavers can't help but admire design details. For example, a user who is otherwise negative about the ESLA63S says its LCD display screen/battery indicator is the best he's ever seen; the Panasonic Arc IV ES8243A, which draws some fire for dumping beard trimmings everywhere, also draws design praise from a critic: "It's well made, easy to hold, and I like the floating head design," he says.
Noise level is one of the few areas where Panasonic's ES8109S shaver draws clear criticism. It earns only middle-of-the-road scores for noise in tests by a major consumer research group -- lower than the other models tested -- and user opinion is mixed. One Amazon.com user writes that you get used to the shaver's buzz after about 30 seconds of shaving, but that normal sound then seems distorted for about a minute afterward.
The Panasonic ESLA63S and ESLA93K shavers do slightly better, with a very good rating from the same expert testers, but user comments still run the gamut. "Really almost hurts my ear when I'm trimming my sideburns," says one.
The Arc IV ES8249S draws mixed opinions, too: "Annoying high-pitched whining noise," writes one user, although a video reviewer for Electric-Shaver-Guide.com says the noise level is "relatively normal." The Arc IV ES8243S isn't quite as well-regarded: "I found this shaver to be screechy loud," writes an Amazon.com reviewer, and not many argue the point. For those models with the self-cleaning station, users and experts agree that it's pretty loud; you can easily hear it buzzing from the next room.
Panasonic's wet/dry foil shavers are backed by an industry-standard two-year warranty (foils and cutting blades excluded), and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Replacement costs for the blades/foils combinations tend to run high -- about $80 (or $50 for the Panasonic Vortex ES8109S), although you can sometimes get them for less.
In most cases you're meant to replace the set every year, or the foils yearly and the blades every two years, although some users say they have to replace the blades more frequently (six to eight months) to maintain shave quality. Refill cartridges for the cleaning system typically cost about $4 each, and last for a month of regular cleanings.
Although any mass-distributed product will inevitably produce a few duds, we found quite a few complaints about the same problem with almost every Panasonic wet/dry model: Users say that these shavers sometimes stop working suddenly -- one day they work fine, the next day they won't turn on at all.
We also found many consumer complaints about poor Panasonic customer service when users tried to resolve problems during the warranty period. "Customer service was a joke," writes one user, who tried to exchange a nonfunctioning shaver and received a less expensive model in return.
The Panasonic Vortex ES8109S draws relatively few complaints about suddenly not working, and it receives very good scores (for everything except noise level) from a leading consumer research organization. It also receives plenty of positive attention from international experts, including New Zealand's Consumer magazine. But it's the more than 500 Amazon.com reviews, including more than 340 5-star scores, that solidify its standing as the best-reviewed wet/dry foil shaver.
The Panasonic ES8109S isn't perfect, but reviewers say it does an excellent job on fine to normal hair, and seems to do OK, if not quite as well, with coarse beards. It's also the only three-bladed shaver in our wet/dry foil category -- an indication conclusive proof that bigger isn't always better when it comes to comfort, performance and maneuverability.