Beards are all the rage right now, but for the baby-faced, facial hair just looks wrong. Photos of my misguided mid-’90s goatee back this up. But just because you might want a hairless chin doesn’t mean you want bother of shaving with a razor. Solution: The electric razor, Jacob Schick’s 1923 invention and the morning savior of many a lazy man.

I’ve used electrics exclusively for more than a decade. While the core technology hasn’t changed much in that time, the products have. With more sophisticated cutting elements, LCD readouts, and—best of all—countertop stations that charge the razor and clean it with replaceable tubs of alcohol-based solution, an electric is more convenient than ever.

I checked out four high-end electrics that comprise the bulk of the market. Here’s, ahem, the buzz.

Braun Series 9 9295cc

Braun’s foil shavers have been the luxe offering in the electric razor world for years, and the Series 9 ($325) is the company’s top of the line. This is a classic foil shaver that relies on a thin piece of perforated metal; hairs get caught in the tiny holes and lopped off by vibrating blades underneath.

Foil shavers traditionally required dry shaving (so facial hair sticks up more), but most new models like the Series 9 go both ways, thanks primarily to a pair of trimmers between the two foil elements that lift hairs lying flat against the skin. (Improved waterproofing helps too.) That said, bone-dry skin makes the shaver considerably more effective. While my results with wet shaving were just so-so, with dry skin the Series 9 gave me the closest shave in the least amount of time.

Controls are simple. Aside from the power button, a switch (that you will never ever use) lets you lock the head in place rather than letting it pivot freely. An LED indicates the battery and cleanliness level, but since you’ll stow it in the cleaning/charging station each day, it’s not much use either. As with all Brauns, the cleaning system makes a sustained ruckus.

If you want to spend a bit less, the Braun Series 7 ($230 and up) offers a less sophisticated trimmer between the foils and an LCD display instead of the LED, but provides roughly the same result if you’re willing to spend a few extra seconds. Either way, you’ll pay about $80 for replacement foils, which you’ll need every 18 months.
Rating: 8/10

Panasonic ES-LV6N-A

Panasonic takes a direct shot at Braun, offering the ES-LV6N-A for a whopping $350—with no charging/cleaning station included.

The razor looks and feels a lot like the Braun Series 9, the primary difference being that the head swivels in two dimensions instead of just back and forth. Like the Series 9, it also features a switch to lock the head position, and a small display indicating battery and cleanliness status.

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Overall, I saw outstanding results, roughly on par with the Braun. The added swivel didn’t make much of a difference; in fact, I found the oversized shave head a little hard to maneuver in tight spots. As with the Braun, this razor tends to be considerably easier to use when shaving dry. On the plus side, the Panasonic features the best pop-up trimmer of the razors I reviewed.

While it’s a perfectly capable shaver, the lack of a charging/cleaning station is a real buzzkill. To clean the Panasonic, you put soap and water on the shave head, run it for a while, then disassemble the thing to rinse and dry. Charging means plugging it into a dangling cord, all of which clutters your bathroom counter and adds considerable time to your morning ablutions. For $350, Panasonic should provide a butler to take care of that stuff.
Rating: 7/10

Philips Norelco Shaver S9721

Today, Philips Norelco is the primary maker of rotary shavers, which include three blade-studded wheels that spin to lop off stubble. It’s been years since I used a rotary, and I was surprised to find that the technology works much better than I remembered (or expected). While shaving with the Norelco S9721 ($250) did require added time and effort, the results were on par with the Braun.

The razor offers three “comfort settings” that primarily dictate how fast the blades spin. However, I couldn’t get much going with anything other than the fastest setting. Use can use this razor wet or dry, and while the wet method is significantly messier, I found it easier to get a smooth motion going—instructions dictate swirling the Norelco around your face in a series of small circles—on moist skin. The bad news: After several days of use, I noticed significant razor burn on my neck.

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The Norelco includes all the, er, trimmings, including a charging/cleaning station, clipper, and carrying case. Unfortunately, the clipper is a separate attachment, requiring you to yank off the shaver head to use it, further slowing you down. I found the cleaning system comparatively quiet (though for some reason it beeps incessantly), but the cleaning cycle takes over four hours, and there’s no readout to indicate how dirty the blades are. Blades last about 12 months and run $40.

Drawbacks aside, rotaries may work better than a foil for some. Sadly, there’s probably no good way to find out other than to give one a try.
Rating: 6/10

Remington SmartEdge XF8700

Remington makes a wide variety of shavers with foil and rotary designs, all of them targeted at the budget shopper. At $130, the XF8700, a wet/dry shaver, is the most expensive model, with replacement heads costing just $30. While it’s ostensibly a hybrid of foil and rotary tech, in truth the shaver is essentially an entry-level foil model.

As you might expect, you don’t get many frills. There’s no charging or cleaning station, though Remington includes a chintzy plastic stand, which is more than Panasonic offers. The shaving head swivels in one dimension, but it’s not enough to make any real difference, and working with the XF8700 requires a lot of heavy maneuvering.

Wet or dry, the shaver just didn’t get as close as any of the competitors, and it’s louder than the others, too. Ultimately, it’s something you might consider for a kid who must trim his youth-stache once a week. For serious work most men probably would prefer an upgrade.
Rating:5/10

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Cravin’ a Shavin’? We Review 4 Electric Razors for Men