Philips Norelco 8900 With SmartClean (S8950/90) Review

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Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean (S8950/90) Review

Review Summary

The good: great value for money, good shaving performance, wet & dry use, suitable for longer facial hair, quiet, very capable trimmer attachment, excellent cleaning station, high-quality travel case, reasonable cost of ownership

The bad: not ideal for sensitive skin, doesn't shave as close as some foil shavers, difficult to clean manually, pricey replacement heads

Our Rating:

(4 out of 5 stars overall)

Value for money:

Features:

Performance:

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Among Philips Norelco’s plethora of confusing model names, there’s one that particularly stands out: the 8900 or by its full name, the S8950/90.

On a first glance, the highlights of this shaver seem to be its reasonable price, premium-like features and the excellent SmartClean automatic cleaning base.

The Norelco 8900 seems to strike the right balance between performance and costs and that makes it a very compelling option for someone looking to buy a capable rotary razor.

In this review we’ll examine the 8900 up close, subject it to a very thorough testing and see if it’s really that good.

We’ll also see how it stacks up against the competition and when you would be better off with a different shaver.

Let’s get started!

Features overview

Part of the Series 8000, the Philips Norelco Shaver 8900 (S8950/90) is a three blade rotary razor suitable for wet and dry operation.

Flexible shaving head

As any decent rotary shaver, the Norelco 8900 features independent shaving heads; according to Philips, they can move in 8 directions.

The whole shaving unit that houses the three heads can pivot, while the head holders can tilt inwards. Unfortunately, they do not pivot outwards as ithe ones on the more expensive Series 9000.

The cutters are the SH90 model that are also used on the aforementioned Series 9000 and feature the so-called V-Track design that supposedly helps with cutting the hairs closer to the skin. We’ll see how they fare in the performance section of the review.

While the “Contour detect technology” just sounds like a marketing gimmick, the design of the shaving head ensures excellent contact with the skin, regardless of the surface that’s being shaved. But then again, this is something that even entry-level rotary razors like the Norelco 3100 get right.

SmartClick Beard Styler

Philips Norelco 8900 smartclick attachment

The 8900 doesn’t have the typical popup trimmer found on most electric shavers; instead, it comes with a separate trimmer attachment.

The trimmer — called SmartClick beard styler — must be inserted into the shaver after removing the shaving unit. And at least on first sight, it does seem more capable than a regular popup trimmer.

Philips Norelco 8900 trimmer attachment and comb

There’s also a comb that attaches to the trimmer itself and allows you to select between 5 different hair length settings.

SmartClean automatic cleaning station

The Philips Norelco 8900 is available with or without an automatic cleaning station. My review unit is the S8950/90 variation that includes the cleaning base.

It uses a detergent-based cleaning fluid and it automatically charges, cleans, dries and lubricates the shaver.

Norelco’s stations are usually very quiet and cost-effective in the long run and this one shouldn’t be any different.

Misc features

Other features include a 5-minute quick charge, three-level LED display and a travel lock.

The Philips Norelco 8900 has a two-year warranty and you can also return the shaver within 45 days of purchase if you are not satisfied with its performance.

Build quality and ergonomics

Philips Norelco 8900 build quality

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The Philips Norelco 8900 takes some design cues from the more expensive 9300 and 9700 shavers, its shape and proportions being very similar.

The fit and finish however aren’t quite at the same level. Some compromises had to be made in order to keep the price low.

The 8900 is made entirely out of plastic and comes in a silver, dark blue and dark grey color scheme. The shaving unit itself is black and so is the trimmer attachment.

Philips Norelco 8900 and the shaving unit

The front blue panel features a matte treatment, while the silver trim surrounding it has a glossy finish.

Compared to Norelco’s high-end models, the design of the 8900 is a bit lackluster and doesn’t feel as premium in hand. For example, the silver trim on the front has somewhat rough edges that don’t blend seamlessly with the back panel.

It is however solidly built with no real issues and in person I think it looks better than in the press images.

The 8900 is a no-frills electric shaver and that is reflected in its design as well; apart from the ON/OFF button on the front (that also acts as a travel lock), that’s pretty much it.

Below the power switch are some LED indicators that are only visible when they’re active. Otherwise you can barely see their outline if you look really close.

Philips Norelco 8900 LED indicators

From top to bottom, we have the cleaning indicator, head replacement notification, travel lock, unplug to use indicator, charging light and a 3-level battery indicator.

It’s pretty basic, but it works and that’s what really matters.

Philips Norelco 8900 ergonomics

From an ergonomic standpoint, the Philips 8900 is very comfortable to hold and lightweight as well.

The rubber-like material on the back and sides should provide a secure grip, but it has this matte, frosted, powdery surface that actually makes it a bit slippery.

Philips Norelco 8900 rubber back

I didn’t however have any issues during use, not even when the shaver’s body was dripping wet. It is very light and the shape of the body makes it very easy to hold.

Overall I would say that the 8900 is a fair product; for the money, it pretty much delivers on the expectations, at least in the build quality department.

Included accessories

My review unit came in the frustration-free packaging: a simple, easy to open and environmentally friendly cardboard box.

Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean frustration-free packaging

The shaver and all the accessories are individually packed in smaller cardboard boxes. Here’s what you’ll be getting:

  • 8900 electric shaver;
  • SmartClean automatic cleaning station;
  • Charging cord;
  • Trimmer & comb attachment;
  • Hard travel case;
  • Cleaning cartridge;
  • User’s manual.

Philips Norelco 8900 accessories

Overall, the bundle is pretty impressive despite the lack of a cleaning brush and protective cap. But since it comes with a cleaning station and a faux-leather travel case, I think we can let it slide.

Philips Norelco 8900 travel case

I particularly like the travel case, it appears to be of high-quality and it’s very sturdy. For example, Panasonic only includes a flimsy case with all their shavers, including the high-end models.

Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean (S8950/90)

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So for the price of the 8900, this was a really pleasant surprise.
We’ll take a close look at the cleaning station and trimmer later on.

Battery life and charging

The Philips Norelco 8900 is equipped with a rechargeable Li-ion battery and can only be operated cordless.

Charging it from flat to full takes approximately one hour and there’s also a 5-minute quick charge feature that should provide enough juice to complete one shave when you’re in a rush.

You can charge the 8900 either by plugging the cord directly into the shaver or via the cleaning station. When placed inside the station, it will automatically begin to charge the razor.

Philips Norelco 8900 charging

Once you plug the cord into the charging port of the shaver, the corresponding charging indicator will begin to blink. When placed in the SmartClean base, the battery icon on the station will light up and blink slowly.

You cannot overcharge the shaver, so you can simply leave it inside the station all the time.

The cord is long enough and the charging brick itself is very compact, excellent for traveling. My shaver was bought from the USA and came with a USA power plug, but this can vary depending on where the shaver is being sold.

The battery life of the Norelco 8900 was excellent during my tests and the claimed 50 minutes shaving time was accurate.

The three-level battery indicator is pretty rudimentary, but it works. I would have preferred a 5 level indicator, but it is what it is.

When the battery is running low (5 minutes or less of shaving time left), the bottom indicator will blink orange, signaling that you need to charge it.

Shaving performance

So far things are looking pretty good for the Philips Norelco 8900. But no matter how well a shaver is built or how many features it has, it all means nothing if it fails to provide a decent shave. In the end, it all comes down to this — the performance.

I have been using the 8900 exclusively for two weeks before writing this review so I could get a good idea on what it’s capable of.

I also tried it in various situations to see how well it performs; for example, I shaved both wet and dry and used it daily and every other day, but also tried my luck on a three days beard.

A quick disclaimer: please note that I never really got along too well with rotary razors, be it entry-level or high-end models. Depending on your preference for foil vs rotary shavers, your experience may be different from my findings.

Comfort

The comfort during and after the shave was generally good — for a rotary razor. The problem with using rotary shavers, at least in my case, is that they can sometimes pull the hairs and pinch the skin, which leads to some discomfort.

With the 8900 these issues were less of a problem compared to most other rotary Norelcos I’ve used in the past. However, they were still there.

I noticed them mostly when shaving my neck where I have very sensitive skin. During a dry shave, the 8900 would sometimes pinch the skin and give the hairs a small tug, causing this constant stinging, itching and slight discomfort, despite my efforts of not pressing too hard.

This is caused by the very way rotary razors work. Philips Norelco uses a pair of blades — one that lifts the hair and the other one that cuts it. The process is depicted in the image below:

Image credit: philips.nl

Because of this, you can actually feel the hairs being pulled by the first blade. Some men don’t really notice this, but in my case it was fairly obvious. I am not going to fault the 8900 for it because it’s the same with any other Philips shavers.

If you’ve used rotary shavers before and didn’t have any issues, you’ll most likely enjoy shaving with the Norelco 8900.

One thing to note is that during a dry shave it’s very important to have perfectly dry skin. This is even more of an issue in the case of rotary razors like the Norelco 8900. If there’s any moisture the shaver won’t glide as easy and may skip and hop over the skin and leave patches of hair behind.

Using a pre-shave definitely helped in my case and I highly recommend getting one for this shaver, especially if you live in an area with high humidity and heat. It just makes the razor glide a lot easier and I was able to finish my shave a lot faster.

Closeness

The closeness of the shave with the 8900 was very good and among the best I ever got from a rotary razor, on par with the 9300 and 9700 that use the same shaving heads.

In my case a foil shaver would still get me a closer shave, but if you prefer rotary razors I think you’ll be pretty happy with the 8900.

With the Philips 8900 the closeness was better on the neck and cheeks; below my nose and on the chin I have really thick and dense stubble, so the closeness wasn’t the best. When running my hand over those areas I could still feel some rough patches, but this happens to me with other electric shavers as well.

Wet shaving

Philips Norelco 8900 wet shaving

Using shaving cream yielded better results in my case. I definitely enjoyed it more compared to shaving dry.

The extra slickness made the razor glide a lot easier and I didn’t have to apply pressure at all to get a clean shave. Moreover, it actually took me less time to complete my shave.

The comfort was a bit better, even though I still got that slight discomfort when shaving my neck and it would sometimes pinch and pull, especially when shaving a 3 days beard.

Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean (S8950/90)

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Speaking of it, this razor managed to capture and cut those longer, flat-lying hairs very well for most of the time, but at the expense of comfort. Again, I must stress out that I have a really sensitive skin but if you don’t have this issue you’ll likely be just fine.

Beard styler attachment

The so-called SmartClick styler is a different take on the usual popup trimmer found on most other shavers.

It is a separate attachment that must be manually inserted into the shaver.

For that, you must first remove the regular shaving unit by pulling it straight off the shaver.

Both the shaving unit and the trimmer have a notch that must be aligned with a small slot in the shaver, so they can only be inserted one way.

Once you’ve attached the trimmer, you can turn on the razor as you normally would and use it to trim your sideburns or mustache.

Philips Norelco 8900 trimmer

For this type of grooming it works fairly well; it is larger than most popup trimmers, so it will take some getting used to. On the bright side, it cuts the hairs easily and close to the skin, without any pinching.

The highlight of this trimmer is however the comb with its 5 length settings (1 to 5 mm). It’s really impressive how they managed to squeeze this feature in such a compact unit and I’m glad to report that it works quite nicely.

To select a certain length (that is the remaining hair length after trimming), there’s a small lever on the back of the styler with 5 positions, each one corresponding to a different setting.

I wouldn’t use this on a regular basis to maintain a beard because it will take a lot more time compared to using a dedicated face trimmer, but it came in really handy when I had to trim my beard down to a more reasonable length before shaving.

I always used the shortest length setting (pictured above) and it worked great.

Overall I’d say that the styler is a surprisingly good and useful addition to the Norelco 8900; the only downside is that you must constantly remove the shaving unit and snap the trimmer in its place.

Cleaning and maintenance

As mentioned previously, the Philips Norelco 8900 comes in two flavors, with or without a cleaning station.

If you’re on the fence about which one to get, my recommendation would be to strongly consider the variant with the cleaning base.

Here are a few reasons:

  • It only costs marginally more;
  • It works great;
  • The shaving heads are a pain to clean manually (more on that later on);
  • The added cost of the cleaning cartridges is less compared to other brands like Braun.

Automatic cleaning

The SmartClean station shipped with the Philips Norelco 8900 S8950/90 uses a detergent-based cleaning fluid that comes in plastic cartridges as opposed to the older stations that needed to be filled with the cleaning solution.

It looks extremely similar to the stations that come with the more expensive Series 9000 shavers. Its design is pretty simple and quite nice and it doesn’t look or feel cheap like some other stations tend to.

The only downside of Norelco’s stations is that they’re not exactly compact because of the way the shaver holder protrudes. This makes it more difficult to pack and transport when traveling and it’s more prone to breaking.

The SmartClean station

Because the 8900 doesn’t have those metal studs on the back like Panasonic or Braun shavers have, the station uses this cap located on the top of the holder that must be pressed into the shaver’s charging port.

This allows the station to charge the battery and to communicate with the shaver.

Located on the left side there’s the button that pops open the station. Once it’s opened, you can slide the cartridge in after removing the seal.

Unfortunately there’s no plastic cap that you can put back on if you won’t be using the station for a longer time. This is where Braun’s cartridges get this right.

The cord must be plugged into the port located on the back of the station. It is angled down, so make sure to insert the cord at an angle, otherwise it simply won’t get in.

One thing that I consider a bit of a usability fail is that you can start a cleaning cycle without the shaver inserted into position. The station would simply start a normal cleaning cycle and the fluid will start whirling into the inner housing as you can see in the picture below.

Norelco 8900 SmartClean station

You can however stop it by touching the power button.

Upon placing the shaver into position and pressing down the top cap, the station will immediately start charging the shaver, signaled by the slow blinking of the battery indicator.

Philips Norelco 8900 SmartClean station cleaning process

You can start the automatic cleaning process by touching the ON/OFF symbol located on the rim of the station. It is a tactile button, so you won’t actually have to press anything.

And because it is a capacitive contact, not recessed or raised, I accidentally touched it a couple of times during the cleaning process and the station simply stopped. As a result, I had to start over again.

The same thing will happen if you touch it during the drying phase — it will simply stop and you can’t resume the drying — you’ll have to go through a cleaning process again. I think a physical, clickable button would have been a better implementation despite the station not looking as minimalist as it does.

The cleaning cycle of the SmartClean system is made out of two distinct phases:

  1. The cleaning phase
  2. The drying phase

The cleaning part is supposed to take around 10 minutes, but it actually took just under 13. The whole process is extremely quiet, consisting mostly of the cleaning fluid being flushed through the shaving head and the shaver being turned on and off several times, alternating between short bursts and longer ones.

The detergent-based cleaning fluid also acts as a lubricant and it has a faint soapy, aquatic scent.

The cleaning indicator will flash throughout the entire cleaning process and once that’s finished the SmartClean station will get to the next phase, drying.

The drying feature of the SmartClean station that ships with the 8900 features a form of induction heating. It is completely silent and uses a coil that gets pretty hot and whole area that surrounds the shaving head is heated, accelerating the evaporation process.

Now, it’s not the most effective inductive heating system out there as it still requires a few hours for the shaving head to be completely dry, but I have to give props to Philips for including it on the 8900 station.

This is a feature that you don’t often get at this price point. Braun for example ditched it completely for the Series 7 and only the range-topping Series 9 stations come with a fan that dries the shaving head.

Philips Norelco 8900 station drying

During this drying phase the corresponding indicator will blink and when it’s finally over the checkmark icon will light up, signaling that the shaver is ready to be used again. Norelco says that it will take 4 hours, but even after two hours the shaving head was already dry.

I am a fan of Norelco’s cleaning stations; they’re fast, efficient and cost-effective. The cleaning cartridges are reasonably priced and they last longer than Braun’s alcohol-based refills.

Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean (S8950/90)

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What I don’t like about Norelco’s cleaning cartridges is that they don’t have a plastic cap, just a paper seal that you peel off and throw to the garbage bin. If you won’t be using the station for a longer time you’re out of luck.

Philips Norelco 8900 cleaning cartridge

Granted, it won’t evaporate as fast as Braun’s alcohol-based solution, but it would have been very practical to have a cap that you can put back on. This also means that you can’t forget about traveling with it unless the cartridge is brand new.

A quick tip for getting more out of a cleaning cartridge would be to remove excess hairs from the shaving head of your Norelco 8900 before cleaning it with the station. The cartridge has a filter inside and it will get clogged with hairs faster and the station will signal that a new cartridge is required.

You can clean it by removing the top portion of the shaving unit and giving it a quick rinse with warm tap water. Make sure to shake off any excess water before placing the shaver into the station.

You should also give it a quick rinse if you use shaving cream or gel; these steps aren’t necessarily required, but they are highly recommended.

Manual cleaning

In my experience a thorough manual cleaning of any rotary shaver is fiddly and annoying. Yes, you can just rinse the shaving unit with water, but this won’t get rid off all the tiny hair clippings trapped inside the heads.

For that, you’ll have to manually disassemble each head and painstakingly clean both the cutter and the comb. Also, the combs and blades are matching pairs, so you must be extra careful not to mix them, otherwise the performance of your shaver will take a hit.

The included user’s manual will provide all the necessary information on how to safely perform this operation.

Philips Norelco 8900 shaving head

In my opinion a great compromise would be to quickly clean the 8900 manually after each use and only use the station once a week for example. This way you won’t have to replace the cartridge as often and hairs and debris buildups won’t form inside the cutting heads.

How to do a quick clean? Just remove the front part of the shaving unit (making sure not to pull out the whole thing), gently tap it on the edge of your sink, then rinse both with warm water. Shake off the excess water, pat dry and let everything air dry completely.

Philips Norelco 8900 manual cleaning

I actually cleaned my 8900 this way and only used the station after 3 to 4 shaves and so far I am very satisfied with the results.

As a conclusion, if you think this shaver would be a good fit for your needs, do yourself a favor and get the one with the cleaning base.

Replacement parts availability

The Philips Norelco Shaver 8900 uses the new SH90/62 replacement shaving heads. After the RQ12 fiasco, these heads seem to be better, but only time will tell.

Price-wise, they are similar to the replacement parts used by other shavers in this price range, like the Panasonic Arc 4 or the Braun Series 7.

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According to Philips, the cutters should be replaced once a year for optimal performance, but it will ultimately depend on how often you use your shaver and how well you take care of it (cleaning, lubrication and so on).

The cleaning cartridges can be bought in packs of 2, 3 or 6.

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Wrapup — who should buy it?

This pretty much concludes our Philip Norelco 8900 review.

I can confidently recommend this shaver to anyone looking to buy a high-quality rotary razor without spending a ton of money.

Philips Norelco 8900 with SmartClean (S8950/90)

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In fact, considering Norelco’s current lineup, the 8900 would be a best-buy considering its performance and purchase price. I personally wouldn’t go for a pricier, more premium model like the Series 9000 because it will only offer diminishing returns.

With that said, the 8900 would also be a solid upgrade from a very basic rotary shaver like the Philips Norelco 2100 or 3100. So if you have one of those or something similar, but feel the need for better performance, the 8900 would be a worthy option.

Finally, there’s the SmartClean station that I think is a fantastic addition at this price point and it’s genuinely useful.

By following the tips above regarding the cleaning, your running costs (buying new cartridges) should be minimal.

In conclusion, if you’ve ever used a rotary razor with good results, you’ll likely enjoy shaving with this one as well.

I won’t be using it as my main shaver because foil shavers are still the way to go for me. Also, because it’s not as gentle as other razors out there, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it to men with sensitive skin.

Alternative shavers

Philips Norelco 9300

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This is probably the most obvious alternative. Performance-wise it’s not a significant upgrade over the 8900, but it does a have more premium look and feel, comes with 3 (fairly useless) speed settings and includes the Smartclean base.

So my recommendation would be to buy the 9300 if you can get a great deal on it and the price difference compared to the 8900 is negligible. Otherwise, stick to the 8900 in this review.

It’s exactly the same story with the 9700 that is pretty much a 9300 with a few extra bells and whistles.

Braun Series 5 5090cc/5190cc

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The Series 5, a mid-range foil shaver from Braun, is another shaver that may work better than the 8900 in certain situations.

The 5090cc variation costs the same or even less, it comes with an automatic cleaning station (though it lacks any drying system) and the closeness of the shave is even better, at least in my experience.

However, the Series 5 is significantly more comfortable and forgiving, especially during a dry shave. I have sensitive skin and I would clearly pick this one if I were to choose.

Also, it deals surprisingly well with shaving longer whiskers (2 to three days) and it’s adequately powerful for a coarse beard.

You can opt for either the 5090cc or the 5190cc variations as they are identical in terms of performance.

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