Since you’re reading this article, you probably have already decided that a rotary shaver would be a more suitable option.
While this ultimately has to do with personal preference and shaving habits, let’s quickly see what they have to offer and how to find the best rotary shaver for you.
Advantages of rotary shavers — when should you use one?
Without the intent of transforming this article into a sterile rotary vs foil debate, here are some situations where a rotary razor would be, at least in theory, better suited for the job.
1. Rotary shavers work better with thick, longer hair that grows in different directions.
One of the situations where almost all electric razors struggle is dealing with long, flat lying hairs. Things are even worse when the hair grows in different directions.
Since a foil razor requires shaving against the direction of growth, a rotary shaver used with circular, overlapping motions makes it easier for the hairs to enter the slits in the heads and to be cut close to the skin.
2. If you shave every two days or more, a rotary razor is probably better suited for you.
As stated previously, due to the design and operation of a rotary razor, they usually work better with longer facial hair than their foil counterparts. So if you don’t shave daily, definitely consider a rotary shaver.
3. You can get away with a more sloppy technique when using a rotary shaver, resulting in a faster shaving time.
While a foil shaver offers more precision and control (and some might say even a closer shave), you have to be more disciplined and patient when using one: short, controlled strokes, always against the grain.
Using a rotary razor with circular motions requires less effort and allows you to be less aware of the particularities of the surface being shaved, like the jawline or your chin.
Shaving these tricky areas with a foil razor would require multiple changes of direction and angle in order to get a clean shave.
4. A rotary shaver can cover large areas with ease and are also better suited for shaving the head.
Again, due to the way they are intended to be used, rotary razors can be a great option for men that need an electric razor for shaving their head as well.
5. Rotary shavers are extremely quiet during operation.
This is probably the only statement from this list that can be objectively verified.
Foil shavers have fast motors that oscillate at a very high speed, producing a loud, high pitched whine, while rotary shavers only emit a low hum.
There are certain scenarios where this aspect can be important — like not wanting to wake up your significant other, your children or roommate. I know I’d take quiet over noisy anytime.
What are some of the best rotary shavers you can buy?
While there are quite a few manufacturers of electric razors out there — some of them lesser known to the general public — rotary razors are practically synonymous with Philips Norelco.
First introduced in 1939, Norelco has continuously refined and improved the design of its rotary razors and became the undisputed market leader in this segment.
In finding the best rotary shaver for you, the most important aspects to consider are cost/performance ratio, availability and cost of replacement blades, wet & dry operation, ease of cleaning and maintenance and, of course, how suitable is a given shaver for your particular needs.
Without further ado, here is a list of my personal picks:
1. Philips Norelco 8900
Usually (but not always), the more you pay for a product, the better it is. And this is also the case with electric razors. However, there are times when the extra features of premium products are simply not worth the extra money.
With that said, in terms of cost and performance, it’s hard to find a capable rotary razor that will be significantly better than the Norelco 8900 from the Series 8000 line.
While most articles will firmly present Norelco’s flagship Series 9000 as the best rotary razor you can buy, I definitely recommend checking out the 8900 first before spending more than twice the money on something like a Norelco 9700. Allow me to explain why.
First of all, the Philips Norelco Shaver 8900 uses the same cutters (SH90 replacement heads) as the more expensive Norelco 9700 or 9300.
Secondly, the 8900 can be bought in a variantion that includes the SmartClean automatic cleaning system and still costs significantly less than a razor from the Series 9000.
Objectively speaking, the only extra features of the more expensive Series 9000 are a personalization mode with three different speeds that is hardly necessary and a more complex LED display.
The 9700 also has a progress indicator for the cleaning cycle that is displayed on the cleaning station. Again, nothing that will significantly improve your experience with that shaver.
The 8900 is a very capable razor that should provide a very close and comfortable shave for most men. The three cutting heads can independently flex in 8 directions and maintain constant contact with the skin, which translates into an efficient and fast shave and minimizes the number of necessary passes.
With its wet & dry operation, the shaver can also be successfully used with a shaving cream or gel, further improving the comfort and closeness.
Alongside a high quality travel case, you’ll also find a click on beard trimmer inside the package. While changing accessories can be fiddly, the trimmer attachment for this particular shaver goes one step further than the typical pop-out trimmer you’ll find on most electric shavers that are merely good enough for trimming your sideburns.
This is almost a full-fledged beard trimmer with 5 length settings and can be successfully used for trimming your entire beard. This can be extremely useful when you haven’t shaved in a few days and you need to bring you beard down to a more manageable length before shaving.
With the introduction of the new SH90 cutters, the blades can now be individually cleaned and replaced. The transition from the old RQ12 shaving heads to the new RQ12+ or RQ12/62 (that now use the individual SH90 cutters) was met with mixed reactions, especially from long-time Norelco users. Time will tell if it was the right move as both the Series 8000 and 9000 now use them.
Considering all the above aspects, I highly recommend checking out the Norelco 8900 as a more cost effective alternative to the Series 9000.
I definitely consider the 9700 and 9300 to be at least as good in terms of performance, but I just don’t think they have enough compelling extra features to justify the higher price.
2. Philips Norelco 6100
Another excellent rotary razor in terms of costs and performance is the 6100 that we reviewed in the past.
With less rotating blades and a more basic contouring system compared to the Norelco 8900 above, the 6100 is still a very capable shaver that fills the gap between Norelco’s absolute entry level shavers and the range topping models.
This razor features a Gyroflex 2D shaving system comprised of three cutting heads that can pivot and tilt inward, as opposed to the more expensive Norelco shavers that can also tilt outward.
The cutters are fitted with slots and holes and the double blade setup lifts the hair and cuts it below skin level.
The 6100 also comes with a basic click on trimmer that is handy for light grooming and touch-ups.
Another aspect that makes the 6100 a great choice in terms of overall costs is the price of the replacement parts; the RQ11 shaving head is considerably less expensive than the ones used by the Series 8000 and 9000. Thus, the cost of ownership will be minimal.
I highly recommend the 6100 for men that shave daily or every two days at most. For this scenario it will get the job done smoothly.
If however you don’t shave for longer periods of time, have particularly thick stubble or you want the convenience of a cleaning station, the Norelco 8900 presented above will probably be a better option.
3. Philips Norelco 4100
In terms of best bang for the buck, it’s hard to beat the Norelco 4100 (formerly PowerTouch with Aquatec 810). With an affordable price, this shaver offers cordless, wet & dry operation and shaving performance that will be good enough for most men.
The shaver works best when used for shaving daily, be it dry or with a shaving cream or gel. Anyone looking for an inexpensive, robust and versatile rotary shaver should check it out.
Being fully waterproof, easy to clean and very simple in design and function, the 4100 also represents an excellent choice for first time users.
This pretty much wraps up my top 3 recommendations and will hopefully cater to everyone’s needs for a rotary shaver.
There are of course other excellent or similar razors out there, so definitely check out our reviews section as well for in-depth, real-world reviews of the most popular electric shavers.