Pros: Light, ergonomically designed and well manufactured shaver
Cons: Removal of guide comb for cleaning is tricky. Replacement cutter is expensive.
This rechargeable Norelco Phillips shaver was mostly well designed and manufactured but cost-saving compromises were made on the charger. The worst is that removing the guide comb can be a delicate matter. You can end up with a handful of loose parts if you are not careful.
Note: In March 2008I re-read this review that I wrote back in May 06... this shaver is still going strong and I am happy with it. I have replaced the cutter blade once. All my original comments are still good, and I have added information about buying a replacement cutter and about durability.
Background and Introduction
It started innocently enough: I took a week's vacation at the beach... got an attack of the lazy-good-for-nothings and neglected to shave... nothing out of the ordinary so far... decided to shock my fellow bureaucrats at work before shaving it off... then at home the wife remarked out of the blue, "you know, I kind of like your new beard." Next she transfixed me with the come hither look (batting eyelashes, pouty lips, our secret signal... you know the drill). "Uh oh," I thought as I lost myself in her adoring arms, "This beard is permanent!"
Later -- after cigarettes were smoked and showers were taken -- reality set in. I am stuck with this beard, at least until the bugs get into it (the wife hates any kind of insect). How am I going to maintain this scruffy unshaven look frozen in time so as not to progress to the Z.Z. Top / Smith Brothers Cough Drops look? That is the question which led me to research shavers, and ultimately to purchase the Norelco T870
A Quick Overview
The shaver comes with basic accessories: a charger, a little brush for cleaning the shaving head, and a flimsy nylon bag with a drawstring to keep it all together in your suitcase. That's all you really basically need, and that's all you really basically get.
It is mostly plastic, and some reviewers have contempt for that, but this is not "cheap plastic." The plastic is high quality, precision made and fitted. It doesn't break easily... the wife knocked it off the sink onto the hard tile floor; the guide comb and cutter assembly came off, but all were unharmed. The shaver is light (6.4 ounces) -- thanks to its plastic construction. It is well balanced, and ergonomically fitted to the human hand (assuming for the moment that men are actually human; the wife sometimes says they are not). It is precision made so the parts fit closely together. The hair reservoir for the built-in vacuum is a friction fit, but removes easily and goes back securely. The on-off button is small and recessed. Overall, this is a handsome, durable, well-detailed design.
The guide comb is raised and lowered by rotating a smoothly operating and nicely designed ring. The ring has raised bumps so your fingers don't slip while you turn it. There is a choice of hair lengths indicated by numbers from 1 to 9. Just turn the ring to select a number. For a short beard -- the unshaven look favored by today's hottest young male stars (and myself) -- use setting number 1 or 2, which are 0.06 inch and 0.1 inch (1.5mm and 2.5mm) respectively. The maximum setting #9 is .72 inch (18mm). Note that the setting does not equate to exact length of the cut hair. If you shave all over without changing the setting, the hair on your neck will be a bit longer, simply because it doesn't stand up like hair on the tip of the chin. To trim the hair on the neck properly, it is best to follow the instructions to the letter: use smooth, gentle, slo-o-o-w movements against the grain.
Do not immerse this shaver in water; do not use it in the shower.
The rechargeable batteries can be removed for recycling, but are not replaceable. The shaver should be discarded when the batteries eventually wear out. This is one of the cost-saving compromises I mentioned.
The charger is another of the cost compromises. First, it is heavy, weighing in at almost 12 ounces. This is nearly double the weight of the shaver. Second, the charger operates only on 120VAC. You will need a transformer as well as plug adaptor to use this charger overseas. On the face of it, these two compromises seem to be very, very bad. But let's put them in perspective. A single charge of the batteries lasts a fairly long time: 40 minutes according to Norelco. My own experience, shaving every other day for maybe 3 minutes at a time, is that a charge lasts well over a month. So unless you are going to be traveling for over a month, maybe you don't need to take the charger with you.
There is no indicator light on the shaver to warn you when it is time to recharge. However I can live without that because the need to charge is obvious when the motor starts slowing down. It would be nice to have a "charge complete" indicator on the shaver or the charger, though. Charging overnight seems to be enough. The instructions say 10 hours, except that you should charge for a full 24 hours before first use.
The shaver uses the old standby NiCad rechargeable batteries. This older type of battery must be allowed to discharge all the way and then recharge. Otherwise it tends to take a "set" that reduces capacity to take a full charge. If you don't travel, you may be tempted to just leave it plugged in all the time. This will reduce the overall life of the battery as well as its ability to take a full charge, but then who cares if you don't use it in the battery mode.
Although everybody does it, it is not recommended to leave any kind of charger plugged in when not in use. There (rarely) have been fires that have originated from chargers being left plugged in and overheating. Also the charger uses energy whenever it is plugged in, whether the shaver is connected to it or not.
Most of the reviews have complained that the vacuum allows some hairs to fall in the sink. That is true, but there has to be some tradeoff between strength of the vacuum vs. battery life and size/weight of the razor. I would say maybe 5% to 10% of the cut hair falls into the sink. This obviously will depend on the length, i.e. size and weight of the cut hairs. So if you haven't shaved for a month, don't put the guide comb on the lowest setting and expect the vacuum to get all those three-inch long cut hairs because it won't get any of them. They will all fall into the sink! In a case like that, work your way down to short by starting with a higher guide comb setting, then going over the beard again with a lower setting. Also note that just because the razor has a vacuum, that doesn't free you from having to take the little brush Norelco gives you can clean out under the shaving head from time to time.
Anyway, so what if some hairs fall into the sink? Where are you going to dispose of the hairs when you empty the vacuum reservoir if not down the sink?! A word to the wise: Don't put them into the white wicker trash basket, not if you want to stay married.
You cannot get right up underneath the nostrils due to the guide comb; about a quarter of an inch below the nose is unreachable (this is only a problem for the unshaven look and very short moustaches). I solve this problem the same way I solve the problem of the lawn mower not getting right up against the fence: I take out the clippers. No, I do not use the grass clippers on my face. I use a small pair of sharp scissors designed for nose hairs (rounded ends). They are perfect. These scissors can also be used to trim individual hairs back from growing over the upper lip.
Other reviewers have reported problems with the numbered settings not holding firm during use. I couldn't understand this because I had no problem... until I removed the guide comb for the first time and ended up with a handful of loose parts. After I finally managed to get the whole thing back together, then I experienced the problem. I had not broken anything, however. A gentle removal and reattachment of the guide comb restored the proper action. I would like to say just leave the comb on, but I can't. You have to take it off occasionally for cleaning because the hairs build up over time underneath the blade and elsewhere in the guide comb area. Although the instructions say that the guide comb can be removed with the adjustment ring at any setting, I suggest you use the following procedure to avoid spontaneous disassembly:
Instructions for Removing the Guide Comb:
1. These instructions are for right handed people. Lefties (including my brother), you are on your own in removing the guide comb as you are in life itself.
2. Set the adjustment to position #1.
3. Leave the reservoir that catches the vacuumed hair in place
4. Grasp the shaver in the palm of the left hand, with the shaver upside down, and the reservoir against the palm.
5. Pinch the guide comb with right thumb and forefinger near the adjustment ring; this distorts the shape a tiny bit to raise the center of the comb up off the retaining piece.
6. Gently pull the comb straight off the shaver.
After about a year's use I decided it was time to replace the cutter assembly but had trouble locating the part number and a source... even the Philips/Norelco website was no help. So I called the Norelco 800- number and was told that the only source is smallappliance.com. Sure enough they have it. The part number is 4203-035-79680. You will pay $20 for the replacement, including shipping, which is about 2/3 the cost of replacing the shaver itself with a new one! You can also order it from amazon.com, searching for the part number. However, the price and shipping are the same because the order is fulfilled by smallappliance.com, not amazon's own inventory.
The delicacy of the guide comb removal process is a big drawback. I was angered when I pulled it off the first time and ended up with a fistful of parts. Everything did go back together OK after some thought and study, and no permanent damage was done, even though I got a bit rough with it and even turned the adjustment ring around past the maximum setting. The instructions above allow the comb to be removed easily and reliably. So all in all, I am still convinced this shaver design beats the others that are out there on the market. So go ahead and buy it. Just treat it with gentleness and love, as you do the wife. However, if there is no gentleness and love in you, then do not buy this shaver. And do not get married!
The title of this review is from an old Bill Cosby comedy routine, a TV commercial endorsement in which a star athlete who is not very bright shows a rookie how to throw the football and talks about how he uses a razor, which is the product he is supposedly helping to sell. At least with this shaver, you won't end up saying, as Cosby's athlete did, "Zip. Zop. See that? [pregnant pause] My face is torn to shreds!"