Although Braun's foil shavers receive the best reviews overall, they're only meant for a dry shave -- you can't use them with shaving cream or lotion. If you'd like to shave with shaving cream or lotion (a "wet" shave), the three Panasonic shavers in this section are your best bet. You can even take them into the shower with you -- that's something not every wet/dry shaver can do.
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. The versatility of a good wet/dry foil shaver means you can fine-tune the shaving experience to suit your skin and hair type, or to how much time you have for grooming on any particular day.
That may explain why men with sensitive skin flock to Panasonic wet/dry models in hordes. The Panasonic ESLA63S (Est. $175) and Panasonic ESLA93K (Est. $210) , in particular, are so gentle that some say they've eased shaving-induced problems with acne or ingrown hair. The ESLA93K shaver is identical to the ESLA63S, with the addition of a cleaning stand.
The Panasonic ES8243A (Est. $150) draws similar praise, as does the now-discontinued Panasonic ES8109S. The latter shaver's replacement, the Panasonic ESLT41K (Est. $100) -- or ESLT71S (Est. $130) if you want a cleaning stand -- is well liked, if not quite as well loved yet; some men are perplexed with the need to apply more pressure than usual to get a clean shave with this model.
The Panasonic shavers are all within a hair of each other in terms of performance and, because they're all wet/dry capable, users say they're very easy to clean. That makes paying extra for models that include a self-cleaning stand -- the Panasonic ESLA93K and the ESLT71S -- more of a luxury than a necessity.
A few features, common among all the Panasonic wet/dry models, conspire to make these shavers so popular. They all have non-slip coatings that make them easy to hold on to when wet, and contoured shapes that feel good in your hand. Their batteries may not last the longest (about 45 minutes of shave time) but they charge to full in just one hour; and flexible, adjustable heads make it easy to shave hard-to-reach nooks and crannies without causing irritation.
So how are you supposed to choose between such similar models? Our pick for the best overall shave is the Panasonic ESLA63S (ESLA93K if you want a cleaning stand); they get the best feedback for shaving sensitive skin, with the Panasonic ES8243A close behind. The ESLA63S is also one of the quieter Panasonic wet/dry models we looked at, drawing very good ratings for noise from some expert testers.
Still, user comments about noise levels run the gamut, like one Amazon.com user who writes that this shaver "really almost hurts my ear when I'm trimming my sideburns." Reviewers also say that the ESLA93K's cleaning station generates a buzz you can easily hear from the next room.
If you have a particularly coarse beard, the ES8243A stands out for being able to mow through a beard jungle without irritating sensitive skin -- but it's also "screechy loud," as one reviewer puts it. That's a deal-breaker for some men (and their irritated housemates).
Reviewers say the Panasonic ESLT41K (ESLT71S if you want the cleaning stand) can mow through a coarse beard, as long as you shave every day; skip a day or two and the shaver might pay you back by skipping a few spots in your beard. It draws mixed reviews for its performance while shaving necks, though -- either really great or really not -- and reviewers' favorite phrase for describing its noise level is "buzz saw."
The ESLT71S's cleaning station seems a little quieter than its competition. One reviewer describes it as somewhere between the sound of the shaver's ultrasonic cleaning mode -- a nice addition if you're not using the cleaning station -- and, oddly enough, the sound of someone gargling.
These oh-so-similar shavers share some common downsides beyond their noise levels. They can't be used while plugged in to charge, and durability and customer service are common concerns. Of the shavers we evaluated, the relatively new ESLT41K and ESLT71S seem to draw the least concern about durability problems, although a few of them have conked out after a year or less of use.
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 run high, averaging around $70 to $80, 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. Some users say they have to replace the blades more frequently (every 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. More than one owner with this problem has opened up the shaver to find corroded battery leads.
We also found many complaints about poor Panasonic customer service. "Customer service was a joke," writes one user, who tried to exchange a nonfunctioning shaver and received a less expensive model in return.
If you're willing to sacrifice wet shaving capability, three Series 7 shavers from Braun (capable of dry shaving only) perform at least as well as the Panasonic models. You'll find them in the foil shaver section of this report.