Today’s creative facial hair movement has finally trickled down into gadgetry, with the rise of a range of products designed to perfect that scruffy, stubbly face you’ve worked so hard to get right.
It’s a product category that, surprisingly for once, we actually need. Electric razors don’t do the job. Traditional clippers are too unwieldy to use on the face. The new breed of mini-trimmers—sometimes called “stylers,” though no universally-adopted moniker has emerged—are lightweight, maneuverable, and serve a variety of functions. At a minimum they work as a highly adjustable clipper (usually letting you specify the height of the hair you’d like to trim down to a fraction of a millimeter) and as a combless razor, so you can clean up wayward strands and complete intricate shaving jobs, all in the same device.
I’ve been using a variety of stylers for several weeks, and now I use one nearly daily as part of my grooming routine. I use a styler to shave off hair in weird places where my razor isn’t effective (near my ears, a Bermuda triangle under my chin), and to even out my sideburns. With a comb attached, I can trim down the bush that develops behind my ears, where the hair inexplicably grows too quickly – and it’s a godsend for doing detail work in my, how to put this delicately, my lavde ke baal.
I tested four different stylers to see which was most versatile and effective. Here’s the gist.
The Philips Norelco OneBlade Pro (Rating: 8, $80) is described by the company as “revolutionary,” and while I might not go that far, it is one of the more unique and versatile hybrids on the market. The main selling point is the dual-edge design: The head of the OneBlade has a cutting surface on both the top and the bottom of the blade, so you can trim in two directions, no matter how you’re holding the device. This design opens up myriad possibilities when using it without the comb. Holding it perpendicular to the skin lets you even up sideburns easily, while holding the blade against the skin lets it shave off stray hairs wherever they might be. The blade is extremely thin, so you can easily get up close and personal, though it’s completely comfortable in use.
The Pro model includes a single adjustable comb that lets you dial in your trimming depth manually. Selections range from 0.4mm to a whopping 10mm (at which point you are better off using a standard trimmer). The dial idea is interesting, but in practice, it’s rather bulky and tends to get in the way. I found I used the OneBlade much more for combless cleanup rather than as a trimmer. Also included in the box is a somewhat flimsy charging station (it’s not wireless, just a conduit that connects the OneBlade to the cord). If you can do without the rotary comb and the charging station, the standard OneBlade, at just $35, is a very compelling alternative.
The Gilette Styler (Rating: 5; $24) bills itself as a trimmer, edger, and shaver all in one, and it’s a significantly different option from the other products in this lineup. For starters, it’s tiny, about the size of a Sharpie, and it’s sold in a blister pack instead of a box. Designed as a low-cost alternative, the rechargeable battery has been jettisoned in favor of a single AA battery (mine came preinstalled, but dead on arrival). The Gilette Styler does at least feature an interesting array of options. The standard head is a trimmer a lot like you find on the back of an electric razor. Three combs are included if you want to use this for cleaning up beards and longer hair. As this is a Gilette product, naturally it can convert into a shaver, too: A special attachment clips on top of the trimmer, which in turn accepts a standard five-blade Gilette cartridge (anything in the Fusion brand).
Ultimately, the small size hampers the Styler from being effective. If you have a full beard, it’ll be just too diminutive to make quick enough work of cleaning it up. The attachment mechanism is a bit temperamental, too. That said, because it’s so compact and doesn’t require a separate charger, there’s at least a case to be made for tossing it into your overnight bag for emergency needs.
The Braun MGK3080 (Rating: 6; $60) is a much different offering than the Gilette, but it suffers from some of the same problems. Billed as a “9 in 1” trimmer, the system includes a bulky base unit to which four different head units attach: a standard clipper, a miniature version of an electric razor (meant for body grooming), a smaller “precision” trimmer/clipper, and a rotary nose hair trimmer. Two adjustable combs (3 to 11mm and 13 to 21mm) are included for the standard clipper, as are two very short combs (1mm and 2mm). Finally, a manual Gillette razor is included in the box, just for kicks.
That’s a lot of stuff to clutter your cabinets with, and if it worked all that well I wouldn’t mind. Unfortunately, while the Braun is a jack of all trades, it’s a master of none. Though effective, the body groomer is quite loud, the combs aren’t secure enough on the trimmer, and the precision trimmer, like the Gillette’s, is too small to be effective unless you’re shaving patterns into your stubble. (Are we doing that?) My biggest complaint is with the overall design, though, which feels flimsy and oversized, and which puts the power button on the back of the shaver instead of in easy reach on the front.
The Conair I-Stubble (Rating: 7, $50) may be saddled with a terrible name, but it’s more effective than I’d originally estimated it would be. The design is similar to a standard clipper, with blades set at a 90-degree angle to the handle. A plastic comb folds over on top of the blades for trim jobs, and the depth of the comb is electronically adjustable (with a motorized mechanism) to various levels between 0.4mm and 5mm in length. A digital readout on the handle indicates the comb depth, and if you want to shave directly against the skin, you flip the comb up and around the back of the device to get it (sort of) out of the way.
Unfortunately, all those extra electronics cause the I-Stubble to be a bit bulky and heavy, and the thick blades are rough against the skin. Nonetheless, the device is effective when used with the comb or as a razor, though it’s less comfortable than other options, and all that extra hardware gets in the way when you’re doing exceptionally delicate work. It’s also a bit on the messy side. Hair tends to get stuck in the complex web of plastic combs, which makes it harder to clean (though it can be rinsed in water).