Pros: My closest, irritation-free electric shave. Wet-dry operation. Cheaper blade replacement. Battery life. Warranty.
Cons: Cumbersome package for trips. Battery only operation. Large head requires practice. Awkward trimmer steup.
I decided to try the Norelco SensoTouch 2D 1160X electric shaver after nearly thirty years as a Braun guy. I always knew an electric could never quite match the closeness of a blade, but I also found a blade could never match the bloodlessness of an electric, either. Yep, I’m a klutz, which is why I won’t be reviewing downhill skis anytime soon. My latest Braun, an aging Series 7, was nice enough, but it didn’t quite seem to match the closeness of my previous Brauns. I was a little perturbed by the abrupt losses of battery charge, despite what the built-in power gauge said. Battery life was decaying, the cleaning solution wasn’t cheap, and worst of all, online reviewers complained about the poor quality of expensive replacement heads and foil. So when I read up on electrics, I was intrigued by favorable reviews of the Norelco SensoTouch line. And then, a heavily discounted sale price and a 45-day money-back guarantee from Norelco sucked me in. The 1160X is not going back, for one reason and one reason only: nearly everything else about this razor is a compromise, but the mythical close, comfortable shave is now a reality for this face, and that closes the deal.
Conventional wisdom says foil shavers outperform their rotary competitors (“by a whisker,” says one leading consumer magazine.) But all faces are unique, and I’m certainly a candidate for poster boy for THAT. In my case – and possibly the face you’re interested in shaving – the Norelco produces a truly close shave with no irritation – qualities I never could quite achieve with my Brauns, or, for that matter, a blade. I can say this confidently, because I followed some more conventional wisdom that says it takes about one month for a beard to adapt to a new shaver. I was satisfied with results in about a day; the difference since then has been that those results have become easier to achieve. It takes as many as five passes to get the problem parts of my beard just so – for me those areas include the neck and chin – but each pass with the Norelco produces a closer shave. You can hear the hairs being cut. With my Brauns, I could never get those problem parts really close. After about three passes, I got no improvement. If I pressed harder with the foil shaver, I didn’t get a closer shave, but I experienced more irritation. The Norelco doesn’t irritate no matter how hard I press, and the shave gets closer. But I’ve found a lot of pressure isn’t necessary for best results.
Is it as close as a blade? No. A really good blade shave will leave a face virtually perfectly smooth, with little or no roughness/sandpapery feel. The Norelco will get you there on the large, flat spaces, but the nooks and crannies, including parts of the neck, still have the slightest hint of stubble. It’s very subtle, completely acceptable, and the result is demonstrably better than that from any other electric I’ve ever used.
For all its merits, the Norelco’s configuration creates two problems. First, there’s no pop-up trimmer, and the circular blades don’t easily allow an approximation of a straight line trim. Norelco’s answer is a trimmer attachment that attaches where the three rotating blade head attaches to the shaver body. That’s right, you have to remove the main razor head to use the sideburn trimmer. My answer will probably be a stand-alone trimmer. The second is the difficulty of the large head in reaching all of the upper lip whiskers in the vicinity of the columella (the thin strip of skin between the nostrils.) It takes a little persistence and practice to make sure the Norelco cleans up completely under the schnozz. But it can be done without very much extra effort.
Now that we know how the Norelco performs, let’s bring some of those aforementioned compromises to the forefront by looking at design and features.
The basic premise of the SensoTouch line is the same Norelco has employed for decades. A group of three relatively small rotating blades, magnetically floated, provides a clean, close, comfortable shave. Part of the idea here is that multiple small heads can conform to the irregularities of a face better than fewer, larger ones. In contrast, foil shavers such as those made by Braun and Panasonic employ a larger, single foil and vibrating blade head to cut the hairs. The theory here is that a curved single head can track the face just as well as multiple rotary blades making up a larger overall head, and the oscillating cut of the foil razor is superior to a rotary approach.
Norelco took the floating heads one step further with the introduction of the Arcitec line several years ago. The three heads still made up a larger head, but this larger head was now articulated and pivoted to improve conformance to the face and the overall shaving experience. The SensoTouch is Norelco’s latest expression of that concept, in 2D and 3D configurations. The 2D models are designated the 1100 series, and the 3D versions make up the 1200 series. The 3D versions have more expensive replacement heads and presumably a better shave from the both those heads as well as the increased flexibility of the 3D Gyroflex head as compared to the 2D Gyroflex head. Both series offer models with a progression of features, such as battery charge level indicators and head cleaning stations. The 1160X has relatively few frills, offering the 2D head with wet/dry shaving capabilities, charging indicator light (not a battery level indicator), charging stand, trimmer attachment, cleaning brush, head cover, and travel/storage case.
The Braun and Norelco both fit comfortably in the hand and feel balanced. The Norelco is curvier and feels a little more secure. It has a glossy finish, but still feels grippy to the touch. Both feel solid. The Braun gives the impression of being a substantial piece of metal (it’s not, but it’s heavier than the Norelco); the SensoTouch feels like a solid piece of expensive plastic.
That said, to a long-time foil shaver, the Norelco’s head looks and feels big. That’s because it is big. It’s big enough to be a minor annoyance when you travel. That is perhaps the first indication the SensoTouch is not a travel-friendly shaver. The travel bag is a light (not flimsy) woven nylon, large enough to hold the shaver, trimmer attachment, and charging stand. The stand itself is light but structured so that it takes up more space when packing. The charger cord has a moderately sized wall wart and does not detach from the charger stand. And Norelco joins Panasonic against Braun in that only Braun allows the user to shave with the razor plugged in. Norelco and Panasonic are battery-only operation.
The next feature probably explains why Norelco and Panasonic will not work when plugged in: both of those brands are wet/dry shavers. I tried the wet shaving mode early in my trial and found it to be no better or worse than dry shaving. It’s a nice option to have, but I haven’t seen any benefit to slapping on the lather and plowing through.
I mentioned earlier the relative difficulty of trimming under the nose and at the sideburns, and these can be linked to the design of the head. The nose area trim gets better with practice, but the burns require a trimmer. I’m not so happy with the disassemble/reassemble option for trimming, so for now I’m using the pop-up from an old shaver until I can find a trimmer I like. So for long business trips, I’m either carrying the Norelco trimmer attachment or a separate trimmer. On the other hand, the large surface area means it’s almost impossible to press to the point of irritating the skin. And to be fair, the Norelco claims a fifty minute battery life. That and the standard travel lock for the power switch means the charger shouldn't be needed for short trips if you're the type who trusts in technology.
Cleaning the head is relatively straightforward to a little bit of a science project. You can rinse the heads under water (Norelco recommends disassembling the heads to allow them to air dry) to removing them to use the included brush, to complete disassembly, which can be a little daunting the first time.
One other thing - the rotary heads are quiet and sound slow comapred to a foil trimmer. It was an odd sensation after using a foil saver for so long. The sound reminds me of electric grass clippers, but you can hear every hair as it's clipped. Now, when I think of the sound of the Braun I think of an electric string trimmer, to continue the lawn care metaphor.
In addition to the 45-day guarantee, Norelco will tack on an extra six months to your warranty for registering and offer you a discount from their online store. All in all, nice touches.
So it’s a little less convenient for trimming than most foil shavers and is a little more cumbersome when traveling. But it’s the closest electric shave, and least irritating of any shave, I’ve found. It’s a different design philosophy, and if you value a great shave above all the other factors, the Norelco SensoTouch may be the answer for your face. Philips makes it pretty painless to find out.