Monday, 12 December 2011

What Electric Shaver?

Efficiently dealing with my facial hair has been an obsession of mine lately. Desperate to free up some lost moments of my life from the chores of shaving, I even tried a beard for a while till I realized maintaining it is just as painful as shaving. The gadget lover in me turned its focus to a new area, that of electric shavers.
Although I have been shaving with a razor for decades now I do have some electric shaving experience under my belt. Back in boot camp, I used a tiny AA operated Braun shaver my father bought overseas. It saved my ass, literally: instead of having to gallop to the toilets and back in the freezing (-3 degrees) dark, like the rest of the squad, I leisurely waved this device at my face for a couple of minutes. Alas, once out to normal army service I started getting picked on for the quality of my shave, and soon had to migrate to the razors I have been using since. Yet the lesson was obvious: electric shavers have the potential to reduce agony, but it’s also much harder for them to give you that clean look one is often after when shaving.
Times have changed, though, and I am no longer in the army. Hooray for that! More to the point, I don’t really care much for the quality of my shaved look anymore; it doesn’t have to be baby smooth for me to be accepted at the office. The time has come for me to look at electric shavers again, in a bid to save time for more worthwhile activities. The question was, which shaver should I try?
That question proved very hard to answer. There are plenty of electric shavers out there for a man to choose from, but feature wise they are almost all the same; they all claim to be able to shave you. So how do you choose one? Or, more specifically, how can one tell whether to buy a $30 shaver or a $300 shaver when they’re both by the same manufacturer and they both claim to achieve the same goal?
I tried to ask around with friends and work colleagues. Turned out many of them use electric shavers, but it also turned out none of them could tell me what the differences between them were. At least not in a proper, measurable way; they could just be labelled as fans of their manufacturers’ shavers, unable to say what it is about that manufacturer that captures their facial hair.
So I went and bought myself an electric shaver from the same company as the shaver I’ve used at the army and utilizing a similar design: a Braun Series 1 190, which cost me $60 at Singapore. That particular model was selected because of its particularly severe discounting. As with all electric shavers, the manufacturer claims some three weeks are required before your face gets used to the shaver. Alas, even after more than three weeks it appeared this new electric shaver of mine was up to no good: it couldn't cope at all with longer facial hair (e.g., after a weekend of no shaving). After two or more days of consecutive use without a manual razor there would be too many hairs it wouldn’t cut, enough to make its look unpresentable. By far the worst, though, was the way it made my face feel, with ingrowth and other not so nice phenomena.
Another post purchase realization was that electric shaving is not particularly cheap. It’s not just the shaver that you pay for: My new Braun requires monthly oiling (oil purchased separately) as well as yearly replacement of certain parts. Buying replacement blades and foam for my manual shaving costs much less!
I didn’t give up on my quest, though. I often note how I tend to fail the first time I buy something, but learn from the mistake to do better next time around. Equipped with first hand experience, I was able to investigate the electric shaver market yet again. I did my research, spending hours reading reviews and watching video clips on the web, as well as interrogating salespeople at shaver shops. This time around, though, I was able to relate to what I was reading: I could tell when a review was applicable to me or when a salesperson did not have a clue. Eventually, the choice came down to three contenders: the top of the line Phillips, Braun Series 7, and Panasonic 8249 (the Panasonic marketing team must have spent months coming up with that model number).
The Phillips was the first to go. Phillips’ trademark circular blades were at fault here, as too many apparently reliable reviews claimed the Phillipses are too rough on the face and more suitable for wet electric shaving (not my cup of tea). The Braun and the Panasonic appear very similar, but I ended up voting for the latter: its faster motor in particular appears more suitable to my particular needs, thick facial hair on sensitive skin.
Now the question was where I should buy the shaver from. Us Aussies are privileged: while Amazon sells the Panasonic 8249 electric shaver for $112 to American customers, we are required to pay $400 at our local shops (yes, you read it right). One of the privileges $400 gets you is the ability to change your mind and receive a full refund if you’re unhappy with your shaver a month after buying it (note that privilege is available to Americans just the same; it’s just that you can’t buy the shaver in the USA and get the cash back in Australia). I decided to bite the bullet and had my shaver delivered from the USA for less than $160.
More than a month later, I can report I am happy with my decision. The Panasonic is a good shaver that consistently produces very good results and overall treats my face well. There are some sour points on my face, but then again it’s not like the razor is foolproof; there are some harder to shave places, like immediately under my chin, but eventually I learned which way to hold the shaver (unlike a razor, shaving against the growth is critical; the surprise comes from learning how chaotic the direction of my facial hair’s growth is – it’s all over the place!).
With the better shaver come better comforts. The Panasonic comes with a box you can stick it in and have the shaver cleaned and disinfected automatically! That comes at a cost, though: the cleaning liquid cartridge, which looks and feels like an ink cartridge from a printer, last only a month (or two, if you clean the shaver manually every second day). I bought 12 spare cartridges off eBay for $60, delivery included; local shops would have you paying $30 for three. That's not the end of the ongoing expenses: as with my now defunct Braun, which I sold on eBay for $25, there is a need for yearly part replacements.
The point is: comfortable electric shaving is available out there, despite all the misinformation or deliberate fuzziness spread by manufacturers. However, this comfort comes at a cost. To me, that extra cost enables me to avoid the razor shave’s restriction of having to shave shortly after a shower, something I tend to do just before I go to bed (hence manual shaving tends to happen quite late). Even if the time it takes me to shave electrically or manually is roughly the same, that extra flexibility makes electric shaving worthwhile. At least for now.

Panasonic 8249 image: Panasonic

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