Stay Tuned/A Short Razor Review

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

A Short Razor Review
5 July 1998

I bought the new Mach 3 razor today, but don't worry - I haven't lost my mind, nor do I intend to use it. I really was reluctant to give Gillette any money for the beast at all, but there were things you can't find out about a razor from the outside of the package.

Fortunately, you can reap the benefits of my expenditure: If there was any doubt in your mind about whether the razor was worth the money, forget it. It's not. Go spend your money elsewhere.

The razor market is a peculiar and exploitative one. There are only three brand-name razor manufacturers of any size, and one of them, Bic, only operates in the low end of the market - leaving the premium space for grabs between Gillette and Schick.

These two, for their part, have done more and more to make certain that no one else will move in on their space. The reason razor blades keep getting weirder-looking is not just to give a "better shave" - it's also to make sure that a house brand can't manufacture blades for that kind of razor and sell them more cheaply.

Unfortunately they have become their own worst enemies in many ways. Gillette, in particular, has been trying to play a little game of "let's see how we can top ourselves" for some years. With the Mach 3, a lot of people think they've gone too far.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they've finally made the gouging obvious. These new razors may be somewhat less likely to cut your skin, but they're almost certain to leave a big nick in your pocketbook.

The Mach 3 razor doesn't look expensive ... but it's not the razor, it's the blades. It's always the blades you have to watch for.

To illustrate this point, a little comparison shopping. All prices from the same supermarket on the same day:

Trac II Plus: Razor 5.99, 5 blades 4.99
Atra Plus: Razor 5.99, 5 blades 4.59
Sensor for Men: Razor 5.29, 5 blades 5.09
Sensor for Women: Razor 5.29, 5 blades 5.49
SensorExcel for Men: Razor 5.69, 5 blades 6.39
SensorExcel for Women: Razor 5.69, 5 blades 6.39
Mach 3: Razor 6.99, 4 blades 6.79

Tracer: Razor 5.99, 5 blades 4.99
Tracer FX: Razor 5.99, 5 blades 5.99
Protector: Razor 5.99, 5 blades 6.99
Personal Touch: Razor 3.99, 4 blades 3.59
Silk Effects: Razor 4.79, 4 blades 4.29

The Trac II Plus is Gillette's most generic of top-tier razors. It used to be their premium item - fancy that! It's just a razor. It doesn't pivot or swerve or have fins or do anything like that. It in turn replaced the Trac II razor, which has long since vanished.

The Trac II Plus is the oldest of Gillette's top-tier razors still around, and I expect it to vanish any minute now. The only reason it's still there is that there are plenty of people who still need the blades, which also fit the Trac II handles. Even after the razor vanishes, the blades will remain. Remember, Gillette still sells more than one kind of old-style double-edged razor blades.

The Atra was a huge success for Gillette. In fact, it was such a huge success that Gillette really doesn't want you to buy it. It was the razor with the pivoting head, you know, and it sold very handsomely. This was the first physical change to actually make a difference in the shave, as far as I'm concerned. It was also a physical change which was confined mostly to the razor body - the blades weren't all that different from the Trac II blades, and easy to clone. Notice above that even though the Atra's a fancier razor, its blades are cheaper than the Trac II Plus's. This may well be because of all the generic Atra blades that are floating around, sometimes underselling Gillette by quite a bit.

The Sensor razors were Gillette's next pivot; the head is modified to "float" a little, so it can lean somewhat to the right and left as well as backwards and forwards. Whether this improves the shave is debatable. What isn't debatable is that the blades are much harder to clone, and nearly a buck more expensive.

The Sensor for Women had an interesting change, though - a broad, flat handle. I admit to being a fan of this razor. I guess I'm one of the few people who can say that I've shaved my face and my legs regularly, and I've shaved my legs with a variety of weird-shaped razors which supposedly make a difference. This one seems to work best, but I admit the difference is small. And, no, I haven't tried shaving my face with it to see how that compares! At any rate, Gillette must think the difference is pretty minor - at the stores I checked, the Sensor men's and women's models had exactly the same pricing. (The prices of women's razor blades do sometimes go up in the summer - leg-shaving season.)

While I will grudgingly accept that the floating mount used in the Sensor is a genuine Improvement in Razor Technology, and therefore worthy of a price increase, from here on up we get into can-you-top-this territory. The SensorExcel models are exactly the same as the Sensor models, save for cosmetic changes and a set of little rubber fins on the leading edge of the blade assembly. The fins are supposedly to protect your face, or make the hairs go more willingly their execution, or something. Their primary purpose, I muse cynically, is to enable that immense increase in the price of the blades that you see above.

Schick's pricing reveals this system very clearly: They have a razor where the blade "gives" in the center - it bows in if you press it there (the Tracer). They have another which is that model plus the silly rubber fins (the Tracer FX). And they have a pivot head with little wires wrapped around the blade and a weird handle - their premium model, the Protector. All three razors cost the same. Exactly the same. But look at the blades!

The idea, remember, is to sell the blades, not the razor. The consumer buys one razor every several years. He/she buys blades every month. Do the math.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the Mach 3. This Mighty Morphin' Power Razor has a spacey-looking black and silver handle and the weirdest curve at its head. The blade assembly plugs into the handle in a weird way; it's a socketlike arrangement. The head pivots, but doesn't have the left-right flex the "floating" head of the Sensors does - making it a step back in Razor Technology, to my mind. So what are you paying an extra buck per razor and an extra buck for blades (remember, 4 blades per pack, not 5) over SensorExcel for?

Well ... a third blade, mostly.

Oh, Gillette makes all sorts of noise about the positioning of the blades and "Patented DLC comfort edges," whatever those are, but the truth is, this razor has three blades to a head and the Sensors have two. That's that.

I'm not saying that Gillette's trying to scam everyone here. I'd never say that. Perhaps it would be better to say that they are trying to find the limits of your gullibility.

They have exceeded mine.


[February 2007:] Since then, things have gotten even wilder, as Gillette has put in a fourth blade and made razors that vibrate and I don't know what-all else. I don't bother trying to keep up anymore. That said, I'll make a small confession: These days I do use the Mach 3. Eventually I tried using both it and my old Sensors for a while for comparison, and the Mach 3 does seem to do a better job of not irritating my face after shaves. However, when I travel I use disposables ... and the other side of this is that disposables have gotten good enough, on the high end, that you might not notice that you are using a disposable razor. Bottom line: It's hard to get a really bad shave with a modern razor unless you are an absolute cheapskate who insists on buying the nastiest single-blade, cutrate disposables you can find.

Also, it was clear that as soon as they introduced the Mach 3 they'd have to come up with a women's equivalent. They did. It's called the Venus, and it too has been subject to any number of ridiculous extensions since then. We tried the Venus and it was a nice shave, but unlike the Mach 3 the eventual consensus was that it wasn't worth the extra money. Also, the head of the razor is enormous; good for legs, not so good for, say, armpits and other tight curves.

and now back to our program

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