Philips Norelco 9700 Review: Best Rotary Shaver Under $250

very time I think they’ve improved electric shavers as much as possible, someone goes and proves me wrong. For a guy who prides himself on being up on the latest technical innovations – and therefore one who couldn’t be surprised – it’s a little embarrassing.

This time, thanks to the interesting new design elements of the Philips Norelco 9700 (S9721/84)see official Press Release here – I’m pretty happy to bear that shame. Here’s why.

For those who would rather skip the long version just watch the excellent video below to get Philips’ Norelco Series 9000 shaving system summarized in 2 minutes.

Basic Features

The basic features of the Philips Norelco 9700 are excellent. But, then, Philips has been putting out fine shavers for a long time, so that in itself is no surprise.

With the 9700 (in one form: the S9721/84, for example), that means a shaver that looks like a lot of Norelco models. That same “Aliens” style head is there with the traditional three floating blade assemblies. At 3.1″ x 2.2″ x 6.2″, it’s long but narrow enough to fit just about anyone’s hand.

The shaver does allow for the use of a trimmer. However, because of the three-headed design you have to pop off the regular head assembly and pop on the trimmer accessory. A minor, but unavoidable, issue given the shape. On the upside, it works a little better than most built-in trimmers.

A minor suprise is the fully secure body. Unlike some of the major competitors’ models (until very recently), the 9700 is a full Wet / Dry case. Since I shave 90% of the time in the shower, this is a must for me. Still, I grant you this doesn’t merit the label “amazing”.

Edging into that territory is the noise level. I can’t honestly say it’s astounding, but it’s definitely quieter than usual. For a shaver that is so effective, that’s a pleasant surprise.

With this particular model, that’s about where “basic” ends and “amazing” begins.

3 Speed Settings

Adding to the comfort level, the 9700 has three settings. If you’ve got tender skin, the Slow setting (1900 RPM) will still give you a pretty good shave and take care not to tear it up.

That’s one of the two main reasons guys give up on electric shavers, I’m convinced. The other, of course, being that a particular model didn’t give them a close enough shave. Hitting that Goldilocks point is tough for designers. Philips succeeded here.

The Medium (2100 RPM) and Fast (2300 RPM) settings speed things up for men with regular or truly tough beards but average to invincible skin.

V-Track Precision Blades

Even a look at the visible foils on the Norelco 9700 make it clear something special is going on here. I haven’t seen a pattern this complicated since the last time I examined a circuit board blueprint.

The pattern of variously sized and shaped slots has a purpose, though. Short hairs, medium hairs, and long hairs all surrender at the same time. That means fewer strokes and a quicker shave without the need to press so hard that you irritate your face. Of course, that’s all moot if the blades (SH90) aren’t sharp.

Here’s where the 9700 really starts to impress in a very new way. Pop off that foil and you’ll see a blade assembly underneath quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. At least, I’d never seen one like it and I see a lot of electric shaver internals.

The individual cutters are U-shaped. All the documentation says “V-Track” but the blade is actually more curved at the vertex than that. Semantics…

As the cutter unit rotates, the hair is caught between the foil and the blade and sliced off cleanly. Precision and sharpness are key with this sort of design. Any gap or dullness would just pull your hair.

Fortunately, Philips has mastered both aspects. The proof is in the results. The company says you get a shave that’s 30% closer. They don’t say closer than what; a common failing of stats in advertisements. Never mind that. This thing works.

Contour Detect Technology

Sharp, fast blades and great foil design are essential to deliver a good shave. But part of that superior result is owing to the ease with which the Norelco 9700 gets everywhere on your face. That’s especially true under the chin and along the lower jawline, where it’s most difficult.

Here, too, Philips has made some outstanding innovations. Most electric shavers pivot. Both the Braun and Panasonic lines do a great job at that. Philips has caught up to the competition in the 9700 series.

They did it with a brand new double-pivot system, something they labeled Contour Detect Technology. Let’s ignore the fancy buzzphrase and look at how it works.

Take apart this Norelco and you’ll see a ring that pivots in one direction, left and right. Remove another layer and you’ll see another piece that pivots left and right – at 90 degrees to the first one. That action in both directions actually results in a total of eight different directions (because of combinations). And, to emphasize the point, that’s true of each shaving head.

I have no idea if Philips’ claim that it removes up to 20% more hair in a single pass is true. I’m not even sure what that means because, again, it doesn’t say 20% more than what. Whether they mean 20% more than Philips’ Sensotouch 3D contour-following system in the Norelco 8000 series or not is a question I leave to the electrical engineers.

What I do know is that real-world use demonstrates that this shaver whacks whiskers everywhere on your face as easily as it does on the cheeks.

SmartClean Cleaning Pro System

The Norelco 9700 cleaning system isn’t as new and innovative as the shaver itself. It really doesn’t need to be. But it could use some improvements. Watch the short video below to see the SmartClean system in action.

Like the Braun or Panasonic systems, the SmartClean lets you clean and charge in one go. Here, what’s really nice is that the cartridge (JC30x) (with x = number of cartridges) is super easy to place and remove. It’s also a little less expensive than the others, in part because it lasts longer. In fact, the solution can last as long as three months. The other guys’ stuff usually wears out in a month.

I can only ascribe that last benefit to the fine dual-filtering system Philips uses inside the cartridge. It keeps all those little whiskers, foam, soap, and more from “polluting” the cartridge solution. Consequently, it cleans almost as throughly the fifth time as the first.

One thing I’m not crazy about is something the company actually brags about. Its solution is “alcohol free”. Personally, I know alcohol is a pretty darn good, inexpensive cleaner and disinfectant.

It may not be as sexy as some of the newer, special-made solutions, but it works. It’s just basic chemistry, and that hasn’t changed in the years that electric shavers themselves have been improving. Still, the lemon and lubricant are as good as the competitors’.

All that said, it certainly is possible and very easy to clean just with water. In fact, I recommend that four out of five uses. You’ll conserve cleaning solution and it only takes a few seconds to get a “good enough” rinse to be in very good shape for the next shave.

And, at the end, like the other guys’ systems, it dries the shaver. That’s more important than you might suppose. A wet shaver breeds both rust and germs. Keeping it more sanitary and sharper is greatly enhanced this way.

Why it should take four hours to dry is a mystery. However, since you rarely need to use the thing again that soon, it’s not a big deal. If you do, it’s still not a big deal.

One thing that could use improving is the seal. The cartridge can leak some solution if you move your shaving / charging Smart Clean stand during use.

Moving it around the counter is problematic for other reasons, too, unfortunately. It’s somewhat top heavy. It’s easy to prove. Try operating the charger with one fingertip pressing down and the thing will tip backwards – with the shaver in place in the unit or out of it. That’s compensated for somewhat by being largish at the base, but not enough.

1 Hour Charge – 50 Minutes Shaving Time

It takes an hour of charging to get 50 minutes of cordless shave time. There are 2 ways to charge the 9700 – via the power cord provided in the package or as mentioned previously via the SmartClean cleaning system.

Why the shaver can’t operate while plugged into the charging cord is a mystery to me. For my part, I just say it’s unfortunate – and unnecessary. Other shavers can.

There is a quick-charge feature that will give you enough juice for one shave, if you’re in a hurry. Plugging it in for 5 minutes will give you about 3 minutes of shave time.

Controls & Display

Among the pleasant ergonomic features of the Norelco 9700 is the digital interface on the body. That’s not a word you might have seen associated with electric shavers, like you have phones or tablets, but it’s starting to be accurate.

True, the 9700 display is nowhere near the level of your smart phone. But this one does clearly show battery level, clean state, whether it’s time to replace the shaver head, and other aspects.

And, hallelujah, the battery level is not one of those little illuminated bars you have to judge. Is that 30% full or 50%? Sometimes you want to know. Here, it shows a full three numbers from 0-100. On top of that, there is actually a Low Battery indicator light. So, if you happen to miss seeing the (large) numbers, the blinking light should give you a big hint that it’s time to recharge.

Some of the time, this feature isn’t worth a separate category. Here, the view is so clear and logically laid out, I decided to list it apart from the rest. Just to cite one other example, a lot of shaver models don’t show clearly when the travel lock is on. This one, you simply can’t make a mistake.

Travel Case

By the way, there’s a nice hard-shelled travel case, too. So, your shaver is not going to get banged around. The chance of the unit turning on while in motion is low anyway. If you typically forget to activate the travel lock, (reviewer raises hand) you’ll usually be okay.

I do wish the case were a bit larger. The shaver fits into it perfectly, a little too well maybe. There’s no room for the trimmer accessory. Ok, that’s a minor sacrifice. Worse, there’s no room for the charging cord. Isn’t that scenario exactly when you’re most likely to use the travel case and not have handy the charging / cleaning stand?

Summary

The Philips Norelco S9721/84 offers a lot of innovation, even if it’s moderately well hidden under the covers. No matter, where it counts – during your shave – you definitely notice it via the results. Close, non-irritating, and quick. I like that. I’d even call it amazing.

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