by Garrick Dee
Updated March 14th, 2019
Electric shavers are great for men who just don’t have the time required to do a three-pass shave with a safety razor.
We’ll look at the best rotary shavers and much more in this article. If you have not read my foil vs. rotary shaver guide, please do so you know the differences between these two electric razors.
A good compromise for speed and operating cost would be an electric shaver, and there are two types– foil and rotary.
The biggest determining factor in your selection process would involve the contours on your face.
Another factor to consider would be facial hair.
Dan Koeppel from TheSweetHome says that men with “thick, strong beards without any history of ingrown hair” will benefit the most from a rotary.
Remember that a rotary shaver isn’t suited for all men.
This product will suit men whose faces are angular with a lot of contours.
Men who have heavy beard growth may also benefit from this as long they don’t have a history of ingrown hair.
In general rotary shavers will produce less noise compared to a foil.
The latter uses a high-speed motor that oscillates the blades at high speed, producing a high pitched whine. Rotary shavers will only emit a low pitched hum.
Works better on thicker, longer facial hair
If there’s one thing that a foil razor struggles with that are cutting longer facial hair that grows all over the place.
Assuming you don’t have a history of ingrown hair, a rotary will work better for longer strands of facial hair.
The circular motion required by a rotary forces hair to the slits of the three cutting elements.
If you don’t have time to shave every day, this would be a better option.
Works better on cramped spaces
Compare the cutting elements of a foil and rotary, and you’ll immediately see the size difference between the two.
New foil razors from Braun and Panasonic have 4 and 5 cutting elements respectively.
Shoving in that much blade in an already cramped space will increase size. It wouldn’t be an issue on flat surfaces like the cheek, but you’ll have trouble shaving the mustache area.
A rotary’s design hasn’t changed that much through the years. Nearly all brands use the same 3 blade design. The biggest differentiator would be how flexible the cutting elements are – whether it pivots just inwards, outwards or in all directions.
The biggest downside of a rotary perhaps would be closeness. Compared to a good foil razor, it will not cut as close.
Using rotary shavers requires a different technique. Instead of the typical back and forth motion used by foil or even cartridge razors, it needs a circular motion. There will be an adjustment period if you’re not used to this motion.
Features to look for in a rotary shaver
Here are some features to look for before buying a rotary shaver.
It can be tempting to buy a cheap Chinese knockoff but shaving is serious business, and your comfort is at stake.
In the world of electric shavers, you literally get what you pay for.
Brands like Braun, Philips, and Panasonic, have spent millions of dollars in R&D to develop products that will perform well for years.
If those three brands cost too much for you, then opt for a cheaper brand like Remington that manufactures good quality foil shavers for the price.
The top brands I mentioned come with a trimmer designed for cutting longer strands of hair. These tools are great for shaping sideburns and mustache area.
Braun razors use a popup trimmer while Philips utilizes separate trimmer attachment that you stick in place of the cutting head.
A money back guarantee of at least 30 days
Experts say that it takes about a full month for the skin and facial hair to adjust to a new shaver so having this guarantee allows you to test out the product with the option of returning it if it isn’t compatible with your face.
Guarantees can range between 30 to 60 days. Make sure to read the fine print before purchasing the product. Big brand names like Philips and Braun offer this type of guarantee.
Here’s another reason why I recommend you only go for the top brands. All of them offer (at least) a two-year guarantee on their products.
Be sure to check what the warranty covers, if that includes consumables like the shaving head or not.
Typically, the warranty will not include consumables, but it’s a good habit to read thoroughly, so you know beforehand.
Quick charge feature
Imagine yourself in a hurry with half of your face shaved and the other half still full of stubble then the battery goes kaput.
This is probably one of the worst feelings any man can have during their morning ritual and a big reason why manufacturers added this feature.
A quick charge feature gives the razor enough juice for a single shave after just 5 minutes of charging.
Some brands allow you to charge and shave at the same time, but most don’t because of safety issues.
A decent shaver will run between 45 minutes to an hour of run time from a single charge.
If you can afford it, look for one with a lithium-ion battery because these batteries will hold its charge longer and have a longer lifespan in general compared to NiCad batteries.
Also, NiCads are heavier, so this should factor in when you travel a lot.
This feature locks the power switch, so the razor doesn’t accidentally turn on inside the baggage and potentially alert the TSA.
Wet/dry or just dry shaving
Shaving wet or dry is a personal preference that will depend on the sensitivity of your skin. Men that have sensitive skin would benefit most from wet shaving because it adds a layer that protects skin from irritation.
And you can actually wet shave with an electric shaver – just make sure that the product you select allows you to.
If you’ve made it to this part of the article, I’m sure you’re serious in getting a rotary shaver. And there is only one brand to look at in my opinion – Philips Norelco.
When it comes to quality, performance, warrant and after-sales service, Norelco is tough to beat. The product range is large enough that you’ll find something that will fit any budget.
The Norelco 9300 isn’t the latest, but it’s one of the best performing rotary shavers out there.
And with the 9700 (and 9800) in the market, it has forced Philips to lower the price of the 9300 making it an attractive option.
Both of these variants are similar in terms of spec except for two features.
The 9700 upgraded the battery status display from a five-level indicator to an advanced progress display.
The second upgrade is in the cleaning system was it displays where the razor is at in the cleaning cycle.
Both improvements are purely cosmetic and don’t affect how this product shaves.
It uses the same V-track blades as the 9700 that will cut closer. Consumer reviews have been positive.
To give you one example, Adam Clark Estes from Gizmodo says that the 9700 gave him “the closest shave” of his life.
Adam Vegas from Moo.Reviews say that the 9000 series works excellent (for him) on long neck hair that’s all over the place. Better than a Panasonic and Braun razor.
Using it is another story. You’ll need to use overlapping circular motions. And if you’re coming from a foil, it will be an adjustment.
Here’s a quick look at the head…
With the whole head being flexible and each cutting element capable of pivoting inwards and outwards, this product maneuvers easy around the face.
The body is fully waterproof so you can even use this inside the shower. Plus you can use it to wet shave.
But there is a learning curve involved in using this tool. Using it requires a steady hand and intense concentration especially when shaving the lip or sideburn area.
Philips says that these new blades cut up to 30% closer compare to the previous generation. To be honest, it’s really hard to quantify if this claim is accurate so take it with a grain of salt but one thing for sure – it will provide a closer shave.
As you’d expect from any Norelco product, build quality is excellent. The razor is light because it’s mostly plastic. But ergonomics is good especially the grip. Look closely at the handle, and you’ll notice ribbed sections on the back and sides.
This provides good stability just in case you like shaving inside the shower where things do get slippery.
A poorly designed cleaning station
But it’s not all cupcakes and roses for the 9300 because there were some complaints regarding the cleaning station.
Consumers say that it is poorly designed, un-intuitive to use and prone to spilling when bumped.
It also takes a very long time to clean – around 4 hours.
Don’t let this weakness dissuade you because even without the cleaning station, this product is easy to clean and you can plug the cord direct onto the shaver – great for frequent travelers.
The 9300 is the best when it comes to performance, and it’s cheaper than the top spec 9700. It has the same cutting head but for $100 less. The upgrades are only cosmetic and do not affect how this product shaves. Men looking for a reasonably priced wet/dry shaver have to look at 9300.
Buying the 9300 will cost over $200. If paying that much is not an option, and you still want the same close shave, take a close look at the 8900.
Only available in Amazon
Unfortunately, this variant isn’t available in the Philips website, but it’s still available on Amazon.
A quick look at the spec sheet reveals that this variant uses the same cutting head as the higher end 9700 and 9300.
In fact, you can use the same replacement head (sh90) as the 8900 as 9700. You’re essentially getting the same performance for around $100 less!
The three cutting elements can individually pivot and move in 8 different directions.
Like the 9300, it has three settings – slow, medium and normal that dictate the speed which the blades spin.
Choosing a setting will be dependent on the type of facial hair and skin sensitivity.
What are the differences between this and the other two?
Differences between these 3 are cosmetic. The 8900 comes in blue and only has a three-level indicator while the 9300 has the five-level indicator. 9700 has the progress display.
Also, the charging station does not have the progress bar that tells how far along it is in the cleaning cycle.
You can actually purchase the 8900 without the charging stand and save yourself around $60.
The Norelco 8900 and 9300 are basically the same machine that uses the same shaving head which means both will yield similar results. All the differences are cosmetic.
The reason I didn’t rank the 8900 over the 9300 is that it has been discontinued by Philips. But it gives you a more affordable option.
You don’t need to spend over $120 for a decent rotary shaver. There are a few Norelco variants that cost less than $100.
Norelco 5000 series
A few notches below the 9000 and 8000 series is the 5000 series.
There are 3 different variants…
These 3 will not shave as close as the top two shavers in this list, but two of them cost below $100.
But there is a big gap in terms of performance because the 5000 series use the lift and cut blades instead of the V-blades found in top spec variants.
Only 5700 comes with the cleaning station while the 5500 and 5100 don’t have it, but the 5700 is the most expensive at over $130.
It uses the same flexible head as the higher end Norelco shavers, but the cutting elements only pivot inward, so it doesn’t get as much traction.
The 5000 series is a step down the 9000 series in terms of shaving but does provide a cheaper alternative if spending over $200 isn’t an option for you.
If you’re looking to spend even less, then take a slight step down and go for the Norelco 4100. Both use the same blade (SH50/52) so performance will be comparable.
But the floating head only moves in 4 directions instead of 5 in the 5000 series, but it runs around 5 minutes longer.
Philips does not recommend you using the 4100 on a growth that’s more than 2 days. You’ll need to use the pop-up trimmer to cut off longer strands of facial hair before shaving.
Men with normal facial hair growth will benefit the most from this razor. It won’t cut as close as the 9000 series, but there isn’t a need for the extra power you’re better off saving $100++ for this. The 4100 will give you roughly the same performance as the more expensive 5000 series at a lower price.
Here’s a video from Philips on how to thoroughly clean the shaving head…
These steps will also apply to the 8000, 7000 and 5000 series because all use similarly designed heads.
Without a doubt, in my mind, Philips is one of the first brands you should look at when looking for a rotary electric razor.
They manufacture the most advanced and closest shaving machines backed by an industry leading 2-year warranty and 45-day money back guarantee.
Set your budget
Choosing one will be a matter of budget.
If you don’t mind spending over $200, then the best value would be the 9300. It’s got the same motor, battery and cutting head as the top spec 9700 minus some cosmetic upgrades.
The 8900 is a great option that will have the same performance as the 9300 for almost $100 less if you don’t buy the cleaning station.
To be honest, you don’t really need the cleaning station because the cutting element is easy to clean.
Just make sure to clean the head thoroughly and dry after use.