Monday, September 15, 2008

No Girls Allowed

(OK, that's not true. Plenty of women have ideas of how the men in their lives cope with these issues.)

I've shaved my head for 25 years. It was one of those things I wanted to do even in high school but I didn't have the guts to be so far outside the prevailing norm of greasy, shoulder-length rocker hair. When I got to college and discovered there were MANY more freaky people than me with a bald head, I shaved it off and have never really let it grow since for more than a week or so.

So shaving is a more involved thing for me than it is for most men (my job requires that I not have facial hair so that an oxygen mask will seal properly).

My first razor was a two-head Norelco given to me as a christmas present by my dad when I was 13 or 14. No doubt in imitation of his own practices, though, I shortly after began shaving with a blade and have mostly stayed with this method for the 30-plus years since. But I HAVE had a couple electric razors, and a part of me has long felt that in our modern times there ought to be a little machine which keeps one's face hair-free. And so I keep coming back to the electric shaver.

Probably because of that first razor, I have owned a succession of three-head Norelcos. I tend to use them for a while before deciding that they just don't shave me as well as a blade does, and I abandon them. Well, for a while, until I begin thinking again that an electric razor really ought to do the job. And so I've gone, back and forth, about 70% blade and 30% electric. Most recently, about three or four years ago I bought one of the latest and greatest Norelcos and was surprised at how badly it shaved me. I gave it a week and it failed to adequately cut every trouble area: around the mouth, my whole neck, under my ears, etc. It worked notably worse than my older, cheaper model. Thus disappointed, I took it back and exchanged it for a Braun 8585 self-cleaning shaver.

Europeans are almost exclusive electric-shavers, and Braun, a German company, is the best-selling shaver there. This razor was my first non-Norelco, and it has been excellent. It shaves very nearly as close as my 5-blade Gillette razor, and the whole process is actually a bit faster than blade-shaving. It still struggles to give me a good shave around the adam's apple and surrounding neck area (as most electrics do for me, including my Norelcos), but it's a good enough shave that I've used it nearly 50% of the time since I got it. The last few months, I've been using it exclusively.

Well, it's time to replace the head & foil, and the nearly $50 price tag for the parts makes me inclined to look into an entirely new razor (how very American of me, to reject a perfectly good machine in hopes of something new & improved). And I'm surprised at how tough a decision process this is for me.

Electric razors come in two varieties: rotary razors (like the Norelco razors--called Philips everywhere else--and some Remington models) and foil razors (Brauns, Panasonics and some other Remingtons). Both work by blades moving under a thin metal foil; the hair protrudes in thru the foil and the vibrating or spinning blades sheer the hair off. The two types have some individual characteristics and a lot of overlapping ones. Rotaries are quiet and present a large shaving surface area for a quick shave, and they deal well with longer hair. But they tend not to shave quite so close, and they struggle with flat-laying or misaligned hairs. Foil razors have thinner films and so give a closer shave. But they can shave too close for comfort and they tend to just push over longer hairs and miss them. Plus, they sound like they're going to electrocute you and / or slash your face to ribbons. Neither type is absolutely one thing, and there's a huge gray area of personal preference and how one's beard grows and responds to an individual razor. Braun and Panasonic both have sprouted extra heads to deal with longer hair, and Norelco has a new "lift & cut" technology to actually cut hair beneath the skin surface. All electric razor companies stress that some time must be given to a razor for your beard to "learn" how to respond (and doubtless for us to learn the best subtle technique for getting the most out of each particular machine).

So here's my dilemma: Norelco has a new razor out called the Arcitec, touted as their most advanced razor ever.

The Norelcos occupy a warm spot for me, I'm sure because of our past acquaintance. They're pleasant to use, being quiet and well-made and they feel great in the hand and gliding over the skin. But they are also responsible for my mostly rejecting electrics because of middling shave quality, and my last one was a big disappointment. Will the new one improve enough to equal (and hopefully better) my Braun?

On the other hand, Panasonic makes a very highly-rated razor called the ARC-IV.

It's another foil razor (like my Braun). My success with my Braun should make me a foil-shaver convert, but so far it's a sample of one. One thing: I'm a HUGE fan of anything Panasonic. I've owned Panasonic CD players and car stereos and a plasma TV and a vacuum cleaner and many other things, and I've had only great performance and extreme longevity out of anything with the Panasonic name on it. I have every reason to think that their razor will be fantastic; but it's an expensive foil razor, and I wonder if it can differ much from the expensive foil razor I'm using right now.

I guess I might also consider the new Braun Pulsonic. But it's hugely expensive--$300 retail--and the reviews on it are either ecstatic or scathing. Plus, it seems oriented toward in-shower use, and I'm a dry shaver.

So there it is.

As proof of my irredeemable geekhood, I discovered a couple years ago a website run by the Canadian Jim Elliott called the Electric Razor Rap. I'm quite hooked on this site, where shavers and related matters are reviewed by a seemingly articulate and personable bunch of guys. My wife practically demanded a divorce when I explained the site to her, but I can't help myself: I can spend hours pouring over stuff. (And I've learned--of course--that I'm far from the only person who toggles between blades and electrics and who struggles to choose between foils and rotaries. Most guys on the site have several shavers, so I'm aspiring to be just like them.) The unfortunate offshoot of my time with the site, however, is that there seems to be no consensus about these issues: brand versus brand, foil versus rotary; it's just a matter of what works for an individual.

So here's my plan: I think I'll buy the latest Norelco Arcitec from Target, where I can return it without hassle if it doesn't work for me. If I like it, I'll keep it and aim for a Panasonic down the road. And if I don't like it, I'll return it and get the Panasonic.


Addendum 9/19.

After deliberation, I decided to skip the Norelco and just look for a Panasonic Arc foil. Then I went to Target to look at their samples and decided that the Brauns seem head-and-shoulders above everything else in build quality. Then I went on the Electric Razor Rap and was persuaded back to Panasonic.

Ergo, a Braun Pulsonic is now in its charging stand in the basement... Erm...

OK, here's the deal: the Pulsonic is too damn expensive. ...Unless, say, Macy's has one remaining box marked at 50% off, plus a sale for another 20% of the remainder! I just don't know how a fella avoids something like that. Given that the prevailing opinion on the Electric Razor Rap is that the Pulsonic is Braun's answer to Panasonic, this seems a nice compromise. The description given me on the shaver page is that Braun has made incremental improvements and adjustments to their shaver line to arrive at their latest models, except for this Pulsonic, which is a wholesale technological departure for them. There have been some reports of reliability issues with the Pulsonic, and not everyone is pleased with the shave quality; but those that are report the best shave they've had in any form. (And I was mistaken: the Pulsonic is not intended for in-shower use.)

I've got only one shave under my belt so far, so the jury is very much out. But the preliminaries look promising.


Dzesika said...

I don't know a thing about electric razors, but your mention of the oxygen mask made me think of something ...

About 10 years ago, my father was unexpectedly laid off, and made use of the extra time (it was nice, it was summer) to finish work on their incredibly DIY house.

When he was offered a new job that autumn, they told him he had to shave off his beard (which he'd had for, oh, 30 years) since his office was in a building that included a factory and it might blow up or something. (Same thing, oxygen mask etc.) Anyway, it wasn't like he had a choice, so he dutifully razored the whole thing off to reveal a perfect beard-shaped farmer's tan.

Another reason I'm glad I'm a girl.

Jeffy said...

I don't want to get on your spouse's hit list, but I think your decision needs a bit more thought (although it really is hard to go wrong leaving Target with a deposit on one to give it a try).

I have similar preferences to you - you can't beat a plain blade razor for closeness, but they are not fast (especially under my control) and it seems like a nice little machine ought to be able to at least match it, while being easier to use.

I too have generally gone the Norelco route, mostly due to habit, and had about the same middling luck that you have.

I too recently made the move to a Braun foil shaver, and have been fairly impressed at its abilities. It is still much faster than blades, while providing a pretty good shave. My favorite part is that it can handle long whiskers when you go a bit too long between shaves (I often get a bit lazy on weekends).

My thoughts on the new Norelco Arcitec are that it is probably the same story that we keep getting from these guys - it does a better job than the older models, but in the end it is still pretty much the same rotary shaver as before, just in a bit spiffier case. While the improvements in cutting-head mobility are a good thing, the end result is probably roughly the same overall shave as before, with pretty much all the same shortcomings as before.

You already know that the Braun does as good a job as you've ever seen, so either take the no-fun route and get new blades for it (I caved in and got mine a few months back, and it is like getting a new shaver again), or if you want to have some fun go for the Panasonic and see how it compares to the Braun.

On a side note, I once saw a little show about how Braun develops new products, and it was interesting to see how they test to see if they have succeeded in making a shaver that has a buzzing sound that folks can generally tolerate. It looks like a tall order, given the many possible intolerable buzzing sounds that these devices are capable of producing.

Malaise Inc said...

Since I use a 50 plus year old Gillette Tech safety razor that belonged to my maternal grandfather, I guess it is obvious I don't put as much thought into my choice of weapon as you do.

So, all I can wonder is if the carpet matches the drapes?

wunelle said...

Dzesika: That's a new one! I confess I always have a hopeless farmer tan as concerns shorts & t-shirt (it's a much better solution than to display more skin to the sun, my skin being configured such as it is...) but I've never had hair-related tan issues!

Malaise: any further grooming beyond what my head requires only increases the time factor involved! Best to leave the rest to one's imagination (which surely improves on reality).

Jeffy: The more I think of it, the more I'm inclined to believe you are correct. I should take a look at a Panasonic. Because of my traveling lifestyle, I think it's OK to end up with several machines. I have the Braun in Louisville, and I'll plan to replace the cutter & foil on that one and keep using it. (I confess I really like the self-cleaner, even if it's a bit expensive; the razor is always nice and fresh.) I'll get something else here for the house, and then I might find a travel model for use on the road.

Maybe I'll start with a cheap Panasonic as my road shaver and see how I like it. There's one at Shopko here for $35 or $40.

Jon said...

Seeing as how I have used a 2 bladed razor for almost 25 years, I think that is the route to go. As Jeff said, you know that the Braun works, so why tamper with a good thing? I had a norelco years ago, ( I believe you had the same one) and it was horrible. That alone is why, to this day, I still use a blade. Also, I have many other things that need doing, other than shaving, so I shave and get on with it.