Panasonic Arc 4 Series
The Panasonic Arc 4 electric shaver collection houses a number of models (ES8243A, ES-LF51-A, ES-LA63-S, and ES-LA93-K) with what appear to be minor differences. Yet, the prices vary substantially. Are there not-so-obvious features that can account for such a wide divergence in cost? Let’s take a closer look.
Table: Different Models of Philips Series
up to 50 min
up to 50 min
up to 60 min
up to 60 min
Black / Chrome
Black / Metal
Any big differences in the Panasonic Arc 4 shaver line certainly do not lie in the look and feel, or even the basic housing.
All of the cases are well-sealed, so they offer the ability to shave wet or dry, for instance. As a result, they can all be rinsed clean in the same way – by holding the shaver under the shower head or popping off the shaver head and rinsing the blades directly under the faucet.
Also, the bodies of the ES8243A, ES-LF51-A, ES-LA63-S, and ES-LA93-K are so close to the same size and heft you wouldn’t notice with your eyes closed. There isn’t enough variation in size or mass to sway anyone here.
True, six or seven ounces is noticeable but how many are likely to care about even that? Some, no doubt but not everyone. Similarly, from smallest depth to largest, the models differ by up to just shy of half an inch. You can feel that, for sure. But few guys have hands so small it would move them to choose one over the other, all other things being equal.
Of course, that’s the point; the other things are not equal. Before we get there, let’s look at some of the other similarities that place each of these shavers squarely into the Panasonic Arc 4 lineup.
Blade and Motor
The most important of the similarities, not surprisingly, is the blade and motor system that each of these four models offers.
The very name, after all, gives away the key: each houses four blades. Those aren’t just any blades, however. Sure, they’re all stainless steel and hypoallergenic. But that really doesn’t distinguish them from even the cheap models offered by other guys. That’s standard these days. Instead, Panasonic is right up there with Braun in offering electric shaver blades that are super sharp, very durable, and therefore cut without drag while lasting a long time.
Those two things together are hugely important. A shaver that offers low-to-no irritation due to drag naturally gets high marks before even considering any other attributes. But if they wear out in a few months you’ll spend a lot replacing the head. The shaver would be suited only to those with money to burn. Needless to say, that’s not a big group.
By the same token, if the blades lasted forever but cut your face up even after an initial adjustment period, that shaver would be useless. If anything, that kind of irritation is no doubt the biggest complaint buyers regularly have about poor quality electric shavers. You won’t have that problem with any of these Arc 4 models.
One reason is not just the quality of the blades, though, important as that is. It’s what drives them. In this case, that’s a fast, powerful, linear motor. Here, “fast” varies a little bit. In the ES8243A, for example, it’s 13,000 rpm. The other three models offer 14,000 rpm. All of them are set at the same 30-degree angle.
While, in general, higher is better the 1000 rpm variation is unlikely to be noticeable. It’s certainly not important. Even the lower speed is plenty fast enough to keep things moving along at a good clip.
Run an Arc 4 electric shaver over your cheek and you’ll find most of your 3-day stubble whisking away with a single stroke and no tugging. That means low-to-no irritation.
There can always be some, for some users, simply because of the type of skin they sport. Some guys have uber-tender skin. An electric shaver, or shaving at all, just isn’t for them. For practically everyone, the Arc 4 blade/motor system lets you get done in a jiffy without leaving behind a flaming-red face.
Head and Foil
Still, it isn’t just the motor and blade that account for the smooth shave that puts the Panasonic Arc 4 line among the best around. The head movement and the foil system both do their part, and a big part it is.
Personally, I prefer the full rotary movement of the Norelco SensoTouch 3D. But that’s the result in part of me having a face with lots of sharp curves combined with round areas. I need that full flexibility in order to get the stubborn sections and recessed areas.
That said, there’s no question that the head of the Arc 4 provides more than adequate movement to satisfy all but those weird guys like me. Just about anyone will find the large, rounded-rectangular head (the “Arc” in the name) plenty good enough.
Equally important, it’s flexible enough to get where you need to go. The well-designed pivot ensures that. However, two models are a little different in this aspect. Both the ES-LF51-A and the ES8243A lack the MultiFlex ability of the other two. They’re flexible, just not to the same degree.
All of the heads sit in that same Aliens-style body – big head, tapering body, narrow but sturdy neck connecting them. That isn’t just for looks, either. It provides a nice grip (especially with the added rubberized pieces) and, at the same time, keeps your hand from interfering with the business end of the shaver.
For those to whom it might matter, the ES-LA63-S and ES-LA93-K do sit at a larger angle to the body than the ES-LF51-A and ES8243A. A simple hand adjustment can take care of that usually, but there it is if you care.
Each shaver houses a pop-up trimmer and they all work pretty much the same. I’m never fully satisfied with these things but that’s probably just my quirky face. My small mouth, for example, makes it tough to get the trimmer into the corners so I use a special mustache-trimming tool for those winter months when I choose to maintain a beard. Most buyers say the tool trims their sideburns and/or mustache cleanly with no hassle.
The foil pattern is as or more important, actually. Here, I couldn’t be happier. Panasonic knew they had to do something really innovative to beat Braun or Philips here and they delivered. The very carefully arranged multi-hole pattern on the Arc 4 line was the result.
One size/shape hole takes care of those longer hairs. After all, for many guys the beard grows at slightly different rates in different areas. So, when you shave on a Monday after being lazy over the weekend your shaver may have to deal with varying lengths. Another pattern tackles that stubble left after you’ve hacked off or whacked down the long stuff, or if you’re one of those who shave twice a day. A third aims at cleanly removing the medium-length ones.
All the foils on all the models are high quality and all last about the same time, a year or two depending on use, maintenance, and environmental conditions. A continually humid area, for example, will cause a foil to decay quicker than a dry space. Not a bad idea to keep your shaving area well aired.
One final note, though. The ES-LA63-S and the ES-LA-93-K have not just the multi-Arc foil that gives the line part of its name. They have an extra, ultra-thin vibrating foil as well. That additional foil helps produce an even more precise shave with even less irritation than the already minimal amount of the other two.
What Difference Does It Make?
So, with all these similarities – and all this similar high quality – what difference does it make besides price? It’s the ratios that are important here, not the absolute price, since we’re comparing one to the other. If the high-end ES-LA93-K model can run more than double even the mid-range model there must be a reason. Panasonic isn’t suicidal in their pricing strategy.
The solution to that mystery isn’t hard, though it lies in not just a single attribute. There are a half-dozen features, including most importantly the charging and/or cleaning system, that drives the price of one Arc 4 model up so much over another.
The number of shaves per charge might be thought to give a clue to one of those features. Sometimes those clues are a little cockeyed, though. The ES8243A, ES-LA63-S, and ES-LA93-K offer 14; the ES-LF51-A provides 15.
The figures are all approximate anyway. Meaning, they might deliver that number and they might not. That’s particularly true after the razor has aged a bit. All rechargeable shavers run down over time and they age at different rates depending on use and charging patterns.
Just as one possible factor that will affect the real number… Whether you shave for 3 minutes per session (the figure used for the official ratings) or 5 minutes at a time will make a difference. Even apart from the required recharging time, even the best batteries will react a little differently from one usage pattern versus another.
All four models take roughly the same time – an hour – to recharge from zero. Still, the details of the charging system differ from one to the next.
For example, the ES-LA63-S and the ES-LA93-K are essentially the same shaver. They differ only in the color/material of the outer casing with the LA63 being silvery and the LA93 a shiny black. The latter, and much more expensive, model includes a sophisticated cleaning/charging system which we’ll cover in detail below. That accounts for their difference in price.
The ES8243A has a nice 5-minute quick charge feature. You plug it in and, even from a state of being completely drained, in a few minutes it will have enough juice to give you a 3-minute shave. Perfect for when you’re rushing to a meeting in a strange city and discover your electric shaver is dead.
On the shaver itself, the ES-LA93-K (and the ES-LA63-S) has a 10-stage display that shows you very precisely the level of charge, in increments of 10% of the total. In addition, there’s a low-battery indicator. The LCD screen also shows how much time you’ve used cumulatively since re-charging to full.
By comparison, the ES-LF51-A display is “only” a 5-stage LED system. To my mind, the two stages found on lower models is inadequate but five levels is plenty to judge the state of the battery. The ES8243A offers the same 10-stage display as the ES-LA93-K and the ES-LA63-S.
One of the big differentiators is, as mentioned above, the Vortex cleaning system. The ES-LA93-K has a doozy, which the others lack. The housing itself does dual-duty, serving as a stand and case for the charging system, but holding the components for automatic cleaning as well. No, there’s no risk of shock by having the two inside one unit. At least, no one has ever reported any problem with this.
One nice feature of the ES-LA93-K system is the cleaning material itself. Unlike, say, the Philips system, the cleaner isn’t an alcohol-based solution. There are tiny dry cakes you insert into the base. Then you pour in water. The cake dissolves and the vibration of the shaver head mixes everything together as it cleans.
That points to one reasonable doubt, though. It’s an open question whether you need the cleaning material at all. The rapid vibration will do much of the work. Still, for the ultimate in residue removal and sanitizing, it’s a good system.
All 4 shavers do have an alternative Sonic Vibration Cleaning Mode you can activate by holding the On/Off button for a couple of seconds. You hardly need a cleaning system at all with that kind of feature. Just hold it under the water and let the razor agitate any residue off.
That’s one possible source of saving since there’s no need to buy refill cleaning cartridges. Still, the cartridges for the ES-LA93-K last a decent amount of time so they’re not a huge expense. You can get about 30 cleanings out of one. Today’s price on Amazon, that equates to about 30 cents per day, if used daily.
All four Panasonic Arc 4 electric shavers reviewed above represent good value. They’re all well made, offer a close yet irritation-free shave, and feel good in the hand. The devil is in the details, of course, so deciding which is best for you can only be done – not surprisingly – by you. Fortunately, you really can’t go wrong.