What’s the Best Rotary Shaver? Our Top Picks
Welcome to Rough and Tumble! In the post below, we feature a full discussion about rotary shavers. We'll start with a quick buying guide, and discuss the features you may want to consider if you're interested in buying one, and then we'll provide our rotary shaver reviews (including our pick for the best rotary shaver overall). If you'd like to learn more, at the end of the post we provide an "intro class" to rotaries shavers, where we talk about how they differ from foil shavers, list the pros and cons of each, and so on. We'll start with...
A Quick Rotary Shaver Buying Guide
Regular disposable razors / cartridge razors are pretty simple—for the most part, they're a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" type thing. Electric shavers, and specifically rotary electric shavers, have a LOT of bells and whistles, and there are a bunch of functions, features, and considerations you'll want to look out for. They include:
Waterproof Properties. If you've never used an electric rotary shaver before, the following feature may blow your mind: some of rotary shavers are designed for use in the shower. Yes, that seems insane, and yes, you've been taught since you were a little kid not to bring electronic devices near water, because you'll get electrocuted. But manufacturers actually created many of their rotary shavers to be fully submersible, and you can use them in the shower or the sink.
It's important to note that "waterproof" is different than...
"Wet/Dry" Capable. Many rotary shavers are made for use without shaving cream (and that's the "dry" capability), but they're also designed for use with shaving cream or gel (and that would be the "wet" capability). That's a pretty fantastic feature, and one that's relatively new (older electric shavers were all of the "dry" variety). While many shavers are manufactured for "wet/dry" use, there are still shavers that are dry only, and it's obviously pretty important to know the difference. If a shaver does not designate in its instruction manual that it's a wet/dry shaver, do not assume it is.
Skin Sensitivity. There are a lot of men who don't worry too much about their skin, and their skin doesn't react to all the soaps, creams, and fabrics commonly sold. There a plenty of men, though, who have sensitive skin, and need to be concerned about such things (and many of us who write for Rough and Tumble Gentleman have sensitive skin, so we feel your pain!). If you've got sensitive skin, you may want to go with a wet/dry shaver, and use a shaving cream or gel. The cream or gel provides a layer of lubrication—and a little more protection to your skin—as you're shaving.
You can also seek out electric shaver models that are specifically made for sensitive skin. Some shavers have a "sensitive skin" mode that provides a less aggressive shave, and may result in fewer bumps and red spots.
(By the way, it's also important to note that if you're making the switch from non-electric razors (disposables, cartridge razors, or safety razors/straight razors) to electric shavers, you may experience some skin irritation when you make the switch. Using an electric shaver is a very unique way to cut the whiskers on your face, and your face may freak out a little bit. The good news is, for a great deal of men, that skin irritation is temporary, and subsides after a week or two of using the electric shaver. We'll talk more about this below.)
A Trimmer. These are a fantastic feature. Many electric rotary shavers come with a trimmer that pops out of the shaver itself, and you can use it to trim sideburns and angle any facial hair you want to keep. Most shavers come with a trimmer, but if you're interested in one, don't take it for granted that a shaver will come with one—you'll want to make sure it's included as part of the model.
Charging / Shave Time. There's one downside to electric shavers, and one way that they're inferior to traditional razor blades: they need to be charged. Regular razors are sitting there, steel-out, ready for use at any time. Electric shavers need to be charged, or battery-operated, or they're pretty much unusable.
So that's why charge and estimated shave time are actually important buying features. Most shavers can be fully charged over the course of 1 to 10 hours, but some of the high-end models only need to be charged for a couple of minutes and they're ready for use. If you're on a pretty regular schedule—up at 7am every day, shave at 7:30am every day, leave for work at 9am everyday—than a mid-range model that takes its sweet time when charging might be fine, and you can simply charge it every night. If you have a more irregular schedule, or are never quite sure when you're going to shave, it may make more sense to get a charge that can re-energize a shaver quickly. But, again, that's a personal decision—there's no "right answer" there.
Automatic shut-off and battery warnings are two other features that are related to battery charge and shave time, so we figured they're good to mention. Shavers that automatically shut down can save you some headaches—it's always a pain when you go to shave, and your electric shaver won't activate because it's been left on and has run out of juice—and a clear display that shows how much life the shaver has left are both nice features. But again—depending on your situation, you may not need them.
Warranties / Money-Back Guarantees. For the most part, a two-year warranty is the industry standard for rotary shavers, but again, you'll want to make sure that whatever shaver you're interested in offers that. It's also a good idea to make sure that nothing is excluded from the warranty—sometimes certain manufacturers will exclude a shaving head (or another part) from the warranty, and obviously that's not ideal, but if you can live with it, then there you go.
A Cleaning System. Most electric shavers require manual cleaning, but some higher-end models have a "cleaning station" that does the work for you. Simply stick the shaver into the cleaner (it's usually the same equipment that charges the shaver, so it cleans the shaver while it recharges it), and come back later, and all the whiskers have been removed from the model, the blades are disinfected, and the parts lubricated. It's another "not-really-necessary" function, but it's nice to have, and if you get a razor without one and then later on decide you want one, there are many that are sold individually. Just make sure that you're buying a cleaning station that will work for whatever model shaver you have.
Available Space. This is such an important aspect of an electric rotary shaver purchase, and most websites dedicated to shaving overlook it. Make sure that you've got space for whatever model you're interested in. Some rotary shavers take up a bit of space—particularly if they include a cleaning station—so make sure you've got counter-top real estate in your bathroom (or wherever you shave) to accommodate your equipment.
Last but not least...
Complicated-Sounding Marketing Features. Before we move on, we need to talk about something you're going to encounter a lot when looking at rotary shavers—or any kind of electric shaver, for the matter: marketing buzzwords. They include "PrecisionPlus Heads" and "PowerFlex" and "AquaTec Technology" and many, many more. Companies that make electric shavers can't seem to help themselves when it comes to giving their products dozens of mashed-together names that sound descriptive but don't actually tell you much about the product.
So, what do you look out for? Well, we'll go through all that below. Just remember that most of those names are actually beneficial, and usually have a very simple description—"AquaTec Technology" simply means you can use it in the shower. Again, we'll talk about all that below.
Good to Go. OK! That's a pretty quick summary of the buying features that you'll probably want to keep in mind, so let's move on to our discussion of our picks for the best rotary shavers.
Rotary Shaver Reviews
The market for electric shavers is pretty well-established, and the "big names" in the electric shaver game are Braun, Panasonic, Remington, and Philips Norelco. Braun is probably the most popular manufacturer of electric razors overall, but they focus on foil shavers, and rarely venture into the world of rotaries. Panasonic and Remington also have some great models, but the real leader in rotary shavers is probably Philips Norelco. They seem to put most of their effort into rotaries, and they've got some fantastic product offerings, and that's why most of our reviews below feature Philips Norelco shavers. The other three companies all make excellent products—and we've included a Remington model in our reviews below—but most of our focus will be on Philips Norelco models, because they truly do own the market.
That said, we've gone through dozens of models, and here are, to the best of our estimation, the best rotary shavers out there. In our experience, reading a long, drawn-out review of a product can be a little mind-numbing, so we've broken down our top picks into different categories, and we'll keep the reviews themselves quick and to the point. Sound good? Here we go:
The Best Dry Rotary Shavers: A Tie
Dry shavers are usually "entry-level" models that don't come with too many bells and whistles, and there are two rotary shavers that fit this category: the Philips Norelco Electric 3100 and the Remington Titanium Precision Plus. Both are excellent "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" electric razors that are meant for dry use—repeat, "dry use." No going in the shower with these two, and no using them with shaving cream or gel.
is designed for corded or cordless use, so it's a great option if you're the kind of guy who maybe shaves in front of a mirror, and maybe roams around his house;
has three shaving discs, each capable of flexing in four different directions, designed so the shaver can shave those hard-to-reach areas of your face; and
features a "Comfort Cut Blade System," which is fancy talk for rounded edges on the blade of each disc, to provide more comfort, and less "rigid"-feeling shave.
The 3100 is NOT a wet/dry shaver, so if you want to bring it into the shower, you should look for a different option. That said, we think it's a great option, as is the...
The Remington Titanium Precision Plus. It's got a few features that other mid-range rotary shavers don't usually have, including:
a pop-out trimmer that'll allow you to do some detail work on sideburns and mustaches or beards;
a lithium battery that can last up to an hour after only an hour-and-a-hour of charging (that's actually pretty impressive for a mid-range model); and
two tracks of blades in each of the discs, for a closer shave.
Another good option if you're looking for a dry-only rotary shaver.
Best All-Around Wet/Dry Models: Two Picks
Remember we discussed fancy marketing terms in one of the paragraphs above? We're about to get to the part of the post where those buzzwords get a lot more common.
The Philips Norelco Shaver 4100 features AquaTec technology (aka, it's a wet/dry shaver, and you can use it in the shower, with cream or gel, or dry without cream or gel), DualPrecision blades (that effectively cut both whiskers and short ones), the Philip Norelco's "Super-Lift and Cut" capability, the allows you to get a close shave when your whiskers are growing sideways or flat. Those three features—AquaTec, DualPrecision, and Super-Lift-and-Cut—are some truly nice features on a mid-range rotary. The 4100 is a fan favorite, and it shares our "Best All-Around" title with...
The Philips Norelco 4500. This is another model in Philips Norelco's Series 4000 line, and it offers all the same features as the 4100, but it also has something called the "Pivot, Flex and Float System" system, which basically means that the discs are designed to stick to the contours of your face as you shave. That's a step forward in terms of closeness, and makes the 4500 just a liiiiittle bit better than the 4100. Both are still great models, though, and in our experience, both will get the job done.
Best Rotary for Sensitive Skin
The Philips Norelco Electric Shaver 7500 for Sensitive Skin can be a great option if routine shaving with an electric razor irritates your skin. The 7500 features Comfort Rings that have a smooth, anti-friction surface designed to reduce interference on the facial skin, and that sets it apart from most other Norelco models—we haven't been able to find one that also includes them. A very nice feature. Plus, it has more flexibility than previous models, with Dynamic Flex heads (read: the discs at the top of the shaver) that can move in five directions, as opposed to the four directions available in older models. In our experience, that added flexibility translates to a little more comfort when shaving, and a closer shave, as well. Your results may vary, of course—everyone's skin reacts differently to shaving—but if you've got sensitive skin and you're looking for a rotary (that's also good for wet and dry shaving), the Philips Norelco 7500 for Sensitive Skin can be a good pick.
Our Pick for Best Deluxe Rotary
Most of the time, when shaving manufacturers create a new product, they don't create entirely new features—instead, they improve all of the features on the old model. You see that strategy with the Philips Norelco Electric Shaver 8900: the shaving discs that could only flex in four directions with the Philips Norelco 3100 can move in eight different directions on the Philips Norelco 8900, and that''s designed to create a much better "feel" of the shaver on your face.
As for totally new features, the Philips Norelco 8900 has a beard styler with five length settings. That's a fantastic feature—a lot of guys like to switch things up instead of being clean-shaven every day, and converting the 8900 to both an electric shaver and a beard trimmer is pretty clever. You can't shape a longer beard with it—the settings range from somewhere around "stubble" all the way to "very long stubble/short beard," but it's a fantastic feature nonetheless. A great wet/dry rotary, in our humble opinion.
Our Pick for the Absolute Best Rotary Shaver...
...is the Philips Norelco Shaver 9700. It is (at the time we write this post) Philip Norelco's most advanced model, and it's got some features we find incredibly helpful:
improved contouring capabilities, called Contour Detect Technology, to cut 20% more whiskers with every pass than previous models did, resulting in the need for fewer passes—and possibly less skin irritation;
V-track precision blades, that cut whiskers 30% closer to the root; designed to result in smoother skin than previous Norelco shavers; and
different comfort settings, including a setting for sensitive skin, one "normal" setting for everyday use, and a quick-use setting if you're in a rush and need to get the job done quickly.
Those are all fantastic options, but all that aside, the Norelco 9700 provides (in our experience) an incredibly close shave. That's perhaps the most important characteristic of all, so the 9700 earns our vote for best overall rotary shaver.
Rotaries and Foils: A Closer Look
OK! We promised an "intro class" to electric shavers, and here it is. There are two types of electric razors: foils and rotaries. Foil shavers look like this:
and they have a rectangular-shaped head that's covered in a thin layer of metal—that's the actual foil—and that foil has very small holes in it. Your whiskers enter the holes in the foil, and are sliced away by oscillating blades located underneath the foil. Foil razors have gotten pretty sophisticated, and do a great job of guiding whiskers into the holes of foil, where they can be cut.
Rotary shavers look like this:
and they have three or more circular discs on the head, and those discs also have little holes in them that guide whiskers towards the cutting blades below the surface. Rotary shavers are also pretty-high tech, and they, too, do a great job of providing a clean and close shave.
Pros and Cons of Each Type
In this section, we'll go over the pros and cons of rotaries and foils. They include.
Shaving Frequency. As a general rule of thumb, rotaries are better for guys who have irregular shaving patterns. Rotary shavers are generally better at handling longer whiskers and whiskers of varying lengths. The points of entry on a rotary's discs are longer and wider, and can accept more hair than the very thin, somewhat narrow points of entry on a foil shaver. So if you have an irregular shaving schedule—sometimes you shave every day, and then sometimes you skip a day here and there—and that results in longer whiskers and patchy spots, rotaries are usually the better choice.
Shaving Style. This is a frequently-overlooked aspect of shaving, but it's definitely something to think about if you're interested in electric razors: whether you like to stand in front of a mirror (whether at your bathroom sink or at the fog-free mirror in your shower), or whether you like to roam around your house while you shave.
Believe it or not, rotaries are the better choice for guys who like to roam while they shave. Foil shavers require a little more precision and a little more concentration, because the shaving head is rectangular, and you need to shave in straight lines over your face. Rotary shavers are designed for a more "freestyle" shaving technique, where you drag the rotary across your skin in any pattern you like. If that describes your shaving strategy—and for those of us how run around the house in the morning scrambling to get ready for work or classes—rotary shavers are the way to go.
Shaving Hard-to-Reach Areas. This is connected to the last issue we discussed. Because the heads of foil shavers are rectangular and less flexible than rotaries, you need to shave along reasonably straight lines when you're using them. That makes them difficult to use on areas of your face that are three-dimensionally curved, like the area around the Adam's Apple and underneath the jaw. Rotaries are a little more adept at cutting the whiskers in those areas, because they have three circular discs that can better contour the skin in those areas.
That also makes them a better option for...
Shaving Your Head. If you're looking for an electric shaver that you can shorten the hairs on your head, a rotary shaver is a better choice than a foil shaver. You'll be able to get the curves on your head a little more easily.
"Bite." After extended use, the foil on a foil shaver may wear thin and tear, and nick the skin on your face. That is a very, very unpleasant experience, and it doesn't happen with rotaries—after extended use, they simply become less effective, and you'll need to replace the disc in the shaver's head.
NOISE. Depending on your situation, this is a big one. Foil shavers—even the new, high-tech ones—can be notoriously loud. They're better than they used to be, but they're still loud, and a heck of a lot louder than rotary shavers. If you live with a spouse, roommates, kids, or anybody else, and you want to shave and have them stay asleep, that's a difficult trick when you're using a foil shaver. Rotaries are definitely the quieter of the two options—even if they're not 100% quiet, either.
Sensitive Skin. There's a LOT of debate about whether men with sensitive facial skin do better with rotary shavers or foil shavers, and at long last, we can offer a definition answer: it depends.
Hey, it's not a good answer, but it's an answer. It honestly depends.
Some men experience skin irritation, red bumps, and ingrown hairs when they use a foil, and experience relief when after they've been using a rotary for a while; other men experience the exact opposite, and experience irritation with a rotary, only to find they have no problems when they switch to a foil shaver.
We're sorry we don't have a better answer, but results truly do vary person-to-person when it comes to skin sensitivity and electric shavers. You'll have to experiment and find what works for you.
Coarse, Thick Whiskers. Men with dense whiskers tend to do better with rotary electric shavers. As we discussed above, the indentations in the discs on a rotary's head a little wider and deeper, and they're fantastic at gathering and cutting thicker / courser / wider whiskers. If you've got thin whiskers, a rotary will also do a great job, but rotaries are usually the electric-razor-of-choice for guys who have thick mane of facial hair.
Irregular Growth Patterns and Swirls. This is another difference between rotary shavers and foil shavers: rotary shavers are usually a better match for whiskers that grow in multiple directions.
If you let your whiskers grow out for a couple of days and take a close look at them, you'll notice that many of them grow in a number of different directions, and they don't all grow straight out from the skin. Some of them lie flat, and some of them grow in an almost circular pattern. Those swirly locations are a challenge for an electric razor, but because you use a rotary in a circular motion over your face, they're a little more adept at cutting whiskers that grow in non-linear directions.
There are some new foil versions that tackle swirls a little bit better than older foil models—the Braun Series 9 is one of them—but for the most part, rotaries are a better option for tackling whiskers that grow in multiple directions.
There you have it! As a quick review, rotaries are better for men who:
don't shave every day;
have a looser, "freestyle" style of shaving;
need to shave over hard-to-reach areas;
also want to shave their heads;
have thick, coarse whiskers;
want a quieter shaver; and
have irregular whisker patterns, or whiskers that grow in a circular formation.
...and foils are better for men who:
shave every day;
need to do detail work; and
want a super-close shave.
If you find that you're actually interested in foil shavers rather than rotary shavers, we've got a full review of our favorite foil shavers here.
That Wraps Up Rotaries
We hope that helped inform you about your choices, and the options you may want to keep in mind if you're purchasing a rotary. We tried to keep it relatively short, because we have a tendency to write some ridiculously long posts. If you have any questions, hop over to our "Contact" page and send us a note. Happy shaving, amigos!