Too Close for Comfort

Maybe Gillette's M3Power has just too much pulsing action

3 min read

When I was a boy on the verge of manhood, my father advised me to put off shaving for as long as possible: he warned me that it would change from a fun, optional kind of thing to a necessary one rather quickly.

Photo: Stephen Cass


IEEE Spectrum Senior Associate Editor Harry Goldstein tests out Gillette's M3Power electrified razor.

Impetuousness beat out common sense, and one morning a few days shy of my 13th birthday, I found myself leaning over the bathroom sink sporting a full foam beard. I scraped carefully, and my dad's double-edge Wilkinson Sword safety razor annihilated the downy growth on my cheeks and upper lip in about five strokes.

After a couple of years, I was grooming a hirsute beast that sleepily regarded me in the mirror every morning, hacking at an increasingly bristly growth from cheekbones to chest. My father was right. Shaving had become for me what it is for many men and quite a few women: a boring daily chore only rock stars can ignore.

Over the years I've toyed with straight razors and disposable ones, electric razors with floating heads and electric razors with screens, and razors with one blade, two, and three. I finally settled on Gillette's Mach3 Turbo triple-bladed razor, whose long-lasting cartridges give me a consistently smooth, fast shave. Lots of other men agree--it's the best-selling razor in the world.

I was never tempted to switch--until last April, when Gillette offered me a trial of a prototype battery-powered, motorized version of my beloved Mach3. This was the M3Power, formally launched in May in a bid to steal a march on its archrival, Schick-WilkinsonSword. Just like Pepsi and Coke, these two behemoths have taken to trying to carve out new niches by introducing a stream of variations on a basic product.

Photo: Gillette


The Gillette M3Power uses an AAA battery in its handle to power its "pulsing action."

You could call the US $15 M3Power the diet Vanilla Coke of razors. Hefting it in my hand, I found it to be only slightly heavier than my regular $5 Mach3, owing mostly to the AAA battery in the handle and the small motor-driven oscillating mechanism that makes the blades vibrate. As with the Mach3, the disposable blade cartridge snaps onto the end of the handle. Gillette claims the vibration stimulates facial hair to stand up and away from the skin, allowing for a closer shave.

I must admit to a certain thrill when I pressed the power button on the electric-green handle and the razor vibrated enthusiastically in my hand. My follicles would be stimulated, hairs standing stiff, eager for the harvest.

Clad in a terry cloth robe for the occasion, I turned to the Gillette publicist who delivered the prototype to IEEE Spectrum 's offices, where I was to try out the M3Power in our men's room. She never left my side--and couldn't leave without the M3Power, lest I hawk it on eBay before its release or, worse, sell it to Schick-WilkinsonSword for some reverse-engineering to get around the 62 patents Gillette claims to have on the invention.

I took the M3Power to my gel-lathered face, attacking some four-day stubble on my left cheek. It fared well, but no better than the regular Mach3 I used on my right cheek. So far, it was a tie. But not for long. Things got downright nasty when I went to work under my chin, using the M3Power exclusively. Hello, nicks, cuts, razor burn, blood, and general unpleasantness. I hadn't experienced a burn like this since...well, I can't remember when, honestly.

Photo: Stephen Cass


Nicks and razor burn sent this Spectrum editor back to his old Gillette Mach3 Turbo.

Maybe my follicles were overstimulated, I theorized aloud, my hairs too excited, the blades pulling up just enough skin to nick. Or maybe there was a little too much hard-core vibrating action.

The publicist corrected me for saying "vibrating." "Pulsing action is what Gillette calls it," she said.

Tomayto, tomahto. If I want my hairs to stand on end when I'm shaving, I'll just have my wife throw the toaster in the shower with me.

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