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Beware: No "OptiFoil" Replacement Heads, No Drying In Cleaning Unit
on November 23, 2010
Over six years ago, I wrote a rave review of Braun's Activator shaver here at Amazon. That review is still available at my profile page. I'm sorry to say that I can't repeat my enthusiasm this time for this Series 5 590cc shaver. Braun is cheapening its products, though not its prices.
First, I will say something positive. This shaver, with a new "OptiFoil" head, gives a very good shave. It's at least as good as the Activator with the "SmartFoil," though I can't say it's noticeably better. I think it IS better than the different cutter block in the 360 Complete series, which came between the Activator and the Series 5.
Also, the tapered, contoured shape of the new shavers is a definite improvement over the shapeless bricks that the older models were. The angled head makes it uncertain at first if you're holding it at the right angle to your skin, but it doesn't take long to adjust.
But there are two really serious problems with this shaver (and the similar 570/550cc). First, this shaver is being promoted by Braun for the supposed superiority of the new OptiFoil head. (See [...]. Amazon is mistaken on this page in showing this shaver with the older SmartFoil head.) This is fine, because as I said, the new OptiFoil is better than the one for the 360 Complete that replaced the Activator.
But you will only be able to enjoy the OptiFoil for about a year or so before it inevitably wears out and you have to replace it. And then, if nothing changes, you will find that BRAUN IS NOT OFFERING REPLACEMENT OPTIFOIL HEADS. The only replacement heads are the older ones made for the 360 Complete. I confirmed this with a manager at Braun Customer Service. There are no OptiFoil replacement sets available. You will have to downgrade your new shaver to the older, inferior, foil/cutter set.
I asked the Braun manager how they can sell a product without the correct replacements for its consumable parts. He said he would "convey my concerns" up the chain of command.
The second major problem is the new "Clean&Renew" system. The shaver goes head-down into a base with alcohol-based cleaning fluid, which is pumped through the head to clean and disinfect it. The unit that came with my Activator cleaned and dried the shaver in 30 to 40 minutes. The manual for the 590cc--confirmed by Customer Service--says that drying takes FOUR HOURS. I will repeat that: FOUR HOURS. Why? The new Series 5 Clean&Renew unit--unlike the old Activator--doesn't generate any warmth for drying. The shaver is simply air-dried.
I confirmed this. I took the shaver out of the unit after 3-1/2 hours because I had to leave the house, and it was cold and still wet. And Braun recommends that you do this EVERY DAY--so the open cartridge of cleaning fluid can sit there evaporating for 4 hours every day. You may as well just take the shaver out after cleaning, cap the cartridge, and let the shaver dry on the countertop.
If you want faster heated drying, now you must buy the much-more-expensive Series 7 shavers--whose claim to fame is that they vibrate! A definite downgrade of the mid-level product line.
My suggestion is that you use the Clean&Renew just once a week, cap the cartridge, and let the shaver dry outside the unit. Other times you can take advantage of one good new feature of this shaver--you can clean the foil and cutters under running water.
Some lesser issues:
Braun no longer gives you a protective plastic cap for the head.
The battery charge doesn't last as long as it did in the old Activator. This is progress?
The advertised "ActiveLift" part of the head, which is supposed to scoop up flat-lying hairs in problem areas like the throat, doesn't work very well. How could it, when the fins that are supposed to get under those hairs are recessed below the contact surface of the foil?
A common problem with these shavers--even the old Activator--is that there has to be an open area under the head for the fluid to flow through in the cleaning unit. As a result, some stubble debris falls out and gets on your chest.
The cleaning warning light comes on after only two shaves after a Clean&Renew bath, even if you've taken the foil off and tapped out the stubble. You can ignore this, but it's a nuisance. It's consistent with Braun's effort to have you use up and buy as much of the cleaning fluid as possible.
The cutter block, as in previous models, extends only about 3/4 the width of the foil. I wonder why.
Finally, Braun Customer Service is awful. I had to call twice, getting disconnected once and waiting on hold for at least 10 minutes, and then had to be bumped up to a manager before I could talk to someone who could do more than read from a script.
I didn't expect this review to be as long as it turned out, but I guess when you have as good an opinion about a company as I did with Braun, you are doubly annoyed when it comes out with something as disappointing as this. $177 is a lot to pay for just one year of good shaves.
If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't. Beware. Go into it with your eyes open, or wait until Braun puts out OptiFoil replacement heads.
But then there's that non-drying cleaning unit.......
UPDATE: Please see the comments. Optifoil replacement heads may be finally starting to be available. However, when I contacted the company that is showing the newer head in the picture on their Amazon listing, they replied that they did not have it in stock yet.
Update 2, June, 2011: Optifoil replacement heads seem to be now finally making their way into the stores. I saw some at Bed, Bath & Beyond. But make sure that's what you're getting because the item number is still 51S. The printing on the package says "100% Performance" in blue text on a black background. My other comments remain valid.