I've never been a fan of electric razors. They tend to take longer than using a razor blade, they leave my skin all dried and irritated and they never do as good a job. But when, within the space of two weeks, I got sent the latest Braun Series 7 and a Philips SensoTouch 3D electric razors, I decided to beard up and test them out in the ultimate face-follicle shaving challenge: The Gizmodo Beard-Off.
Over the past few weeks, I'd been avoiding the whole concept of shaving in an effort to build up enough facial growth to really challenge these razors. The challenge was to shave one half of my face with each shaver and see which did a better job. The right side of my face would get a trim from the Philips, while the Braun would take down the face forest on the left.
There are a couple of things worth mentioning about the razors before we get into their performance. Firstly, both used a different method of shaving. The Philips uses the three circular shavers to cut hair and recommends shaving in small circles for the optimum shave. The Braun, on the other hand, requires a vertical shaving motion. Also worth noting is the recommended preparation: The Philips suggests a freshly washed face in warm water before shaving, while the Braun recommends shaving before washing. To get around this, I gently wiped the right side of my face with warm water while leaving the left half dry.
The Philips SensoTouch 3D I started with the Philips shaver. Despite my two-week growth, I didn't actually find the Philips ripped the hairs from my face uncomfortably, but at the same time it seemed to take quite a few passes to get down to what could be considered a close shave. The three circular shavers had a tendency to miss hairs, and even though it's suggested you shave in a circular motion, actually doing that is harder than it seems when the overall shaver takes up a large chunk of your face.
The Philips struggled with my upper lip - a few stray hairs right beneath my nose were missed completely, and it wasn't as close a shave up there overall. The shaver itself was relatively quiet... until you pushed out the trimmer at the back, which sounded like a distant chainsaw up against your ear.
The Philips did have the advantage of capturing most of the hair underneath the foils. While that meant manually opening up the foils to clean them out (and making it look like some evil torture device in the process), it did have the benefit of minimising mess as your cut facial hair drops to the sink.
The Braun Series 7 If the Philips sounded like a distant chainsaw, then the Braun sounds like one right up close. It's one noisy shaver. But it's also got some grunt - chopping through the bulk of my two-week growth was like cutting soft cheese, though not as tasty and, unfortunately, a lot messier. Where the Philips catches a large amount of the hair beneath its foils, the Braun lets them drop to the sink below, to be cleaned up at a later date.
The other problem with the Braun ripping through the bulk of the beard quicker is that it literally rips the hair from your face. The Braun does have a sensitive mode though, which did reduce the agonising facial hair rips significantly, although the intensive mode made it worse.
The Braun was much more adept at taking down the moustache, but really, really struggled with my jawline, leaving rough, half-cut hairs all over the place, even with the shaver head locked down. On the upside, the trimmer on the Braun, which pops out from the main body, is far superior to the Philips model, trimming sideburns quickly and effectively.
Overall: After shaving both sides of my face, I could still see stray hairs on both sides, despite repeatedly trying to shave them off. But missed follicles aside, the winner was definitely the Philips. Overall it provided a smoother shaving experience, from the act of shaving to the end result.
But for an asking price of $700 (there are cheaper versions, but I was testing the top of the line), I can't actually recommend it. After I finished with both shavers, I still needed to quickly run the razor over the missed patches to tidy up, and that's unforgivable for a product at that price. The Braun is cheaper at $549 (for the top-end model I used), but it's still impossible to recommend. Especially when you consider that both devices require regular cleaning solution purchases, take just as long to shave your face and cost infinitely more than a pack of razor blades.