What’s the buzz on electric razors?

27 Apr

The Philips Arcitec electric razor. (Photo by Geoff Meeker)

April 27, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

Do you remember the Gillette Trac II razor? (Bear with me – this does involve technology.)

The Trac II, with its twin blades, gave me the best shave I ever had, back in the 1980s. It was so good that, when Gillette introduced the Mach3 and its three blades, I ignored it completely.

Then the Trac II began scratching up my face. No, my facial hair didn’t suddenly become invincible, or my skin soft and babylike. The quality of the Trac II razor blade went downhill. And I think the reason was obvious: they were nudging the Trac II diehards, one nick at a time, toward the new, more expensive blades.

So I switched. And yes, the Mach3 was better. For a while. Then they introduced the Fusion, which leapfrogged over the silly, inadequate notion of four blades to give us five. Five!

Again, I held out, satisfied with my Mach3. Until it, too, began tearing up my face. Do you see a pattern here? Yes, the quality of the Mach3 blade went downhill, making necessary the upgrade to Fusion. What did Gillette do next? They added battery power to the Fusion, which makes the blades vibrate against your face and supposedly give you a better shave.

Baloney, I say. Give me back my Trac II, Version 1.0.

I know. Not going to happen. However, there are other options.

Years ago, when I lived at home, I used my father’s Philips electric razor. It wasn’t bad in a pinch – like when there was a car honking in the driveway and I had to shave in a hurry – but it was not quite close enough for, well, rubbing cheeks in the back seat. Which is why I held out with the blades for so long.

In the early Nineties, inveigled by puffed-up advertising claims, I actually bought a Braun electric razor of my own. It was a major disappointment and soon wound up in the junk drawer.

In recent months, however, I’ve contemplated giving electric razors another look.

Just a few months ago, I bought a Philips for my 17-year-old son, who complained that blades were irritating his face. It cost about $70, and worked fine for him. I tried it too and, you know, it wasn’t bad. Not as smooth as the proverbial baby’s arse, but pretty close. Certainly presentable enough for a meeting downtown.

Through online research, I found consistently high reviews for the Philips Arcitec and the Braun Series 7 electric shavers, which both cost more than $200. The Arcitec has three circular shaving heads on individual pivots, to hug the contours of the face, while the Braun has a foil system with one surface that conforms to bends and curves.

Based on my own experience with both brands, I tried the Philips Arcitec – with every intention of returning it if not satisfied.

The Arcitec has numerous high tech features, and is presented as the latest and greatest in shaving technology. But that’s all window dressing (except perhaps the charge time of one hour, with power sufficient for 21 shaves). I have just one question: does it give a smooth, close shave?

On the first shave, I was not impressed. I had skipped shaving for 48 hours, to give it a real test, and must have been buzzing at my visage for five minutes. After that, there were still rough spots. However, I recalled reading in my research that it takes time for your skin to adjust to electric razors, so I reserved judgment.

The razor performed a little better on day two. There were fewer sandpaper patches, but it was still taking a long time – about four minutes – to achieve even that.

However, there was a breakthrough on day three. When done, my face was as smooth as a manual razor shave, and it only took three minutes. I think there is a learning curve, in terms of knowing how hard to press against the skin, and ensuring that every patch of face is covered repeatedly, from different angles of approach.

Just this minute, I shaved for the fourth time, with similar results. I am officially impressed. My face is smooth enough to rub against the softest skin, without irritation. (Subjects for this experiment are invited to line up at the left.)

It looks like old that manual razor is destined for the trunk of obsolete gadgets. It, and its multi-bladed descendants, will not be missed.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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