The best portable air conditioners sell out very quickly when the sun comes out which, unusually for T3's native UK, it suddenly has. The good news is that retailers seem to have realised that demand for portable air con is rising and are responding with more supply and more choice.
When you can't find a portable air conditioner for love nor money you have to resort to less effective options, such as trying to find the best fan – another product category that sells out fast in good weather – so at least the air would be moving, even if it stayed warm. At one point we seriously considered buying one of the best lawn sprinklers so we could park ourselves under that.
Despite our best efforts, though, you can't beat actual air conditioning when it comes to cooling a room and the people in it. But if you live in the UK or Northern Europe, the climate isn't really warm enough to justify the expense of getting a full domestic aircon system installed. That's why we're looking at the best portable aircon systems rather than permanent installations: they're great at delivering super-cool air when you need it, and they're small enough to park in a cupboard when you don't.
Before we begin it's important to explain what we mean by air conditioners: we're talking appliances that use refrigerants, just like fridges and in-car air-con systems do, to take warm air and cool it down very rapidly. Evaporative coolers try to get the same effect by blowing warm air over something cold such as ice packs, but they aren't aircon: we've created a portable air conditioner vs evaporative cooler guide to explain the key differences as well as the pros and cons.
The best portable air conditioners we've tested with fire
Dutch company Princess is on a roll at the moment with a bunch of excellent air-cooling products that don’t cost the earth. Before we tackle its latest evaporative cooler – the Smart Air Cooler – we’re first taking a look at its new 12,000 BTU Smart Air Conditioner.
Now it must be said that portable air conditioners aren’t the most attractive of household appliances – in fact most of them are damn ugly. Despite its ample proportions (71.5 x 43.5 x 35.5cm), this one bucks the trend by being both stylish and fairly incongruous. At least for a portable air con.
This gutsy 12,000 BTU unit has an air flow of 380m³/hour so it’s good for rooms up to 100 m³. It even has a dehumidifying function. Given that it’s 25˚C outside right now, I hastily got it out of its box (which lifts off to expose the unit underneath) and wheeled it into the lounge where I conveniently have a wood burner to position it in front of, obviously with the burner’s door open. If you don’t have a fireplace to hand, the product ships with a 1.5m concertina hose to port the warm exhaust air either through a hole in the wall or a partly opened door. Alternatively, you can use the supplied universal window kit to seal the area around the hose outlet but this always looks a bit Heath Robinson-esque to my mind.
The Princess’s touch screen interface required no explanation because everything’s so self evident. I naturally selected its lowest temperature – 16˚C which is the norm with all air con systems – and the big boy fired up with a low growl as the compressor kicked in. Seconds later, the oscillating louver started moving and out poured the coolest of breezes. I stood in front of the icy blast for about 90 seconds before I had to head outdoors to warm up again. It’s that effective.
Another great thing about this model is that it ships with a remote control so you can operate it from the comfort of the sofa. For tech types, it can also be used with the HomeWizard Climate app and Siri, Google and Amazon Alexa. In fact, the app is especially useful because you can cool down a room from the comfort of the car so it’s at a comfortable temperature by the time you get home.
All in all, this is a sterling portable that is surprisingly quiet, especially when the compressor is off (it kicks in intermittently to maintain room temperature). I’d confidently say that it’s best model I’ve tried to date and it’s decently priced too. However, if you’re on a budget (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), a smaller, less powerful 9,000BTU version is also available for a really low price.
• Read about how this machine saved us from the 'one-day heatwave' in our Princess Smart Air Conditioner 12000 review.
The AEG Chillflex Pro is a great choice if you want maximum cooling with minimum hassle. It comes with a 1.5m exhaust hose, 63cm drainage hose and a remote control, and with 12,000 BTU/h it's capable of cooling large rooms without too much effort. It's one of the heavier air conditioners you can buy, although it's on wheels so it's easy enough to roll about, and you'll need to get a window kit separately as AEG doesn't include one with the product. There's a programmable timer and a sleep mode function to reduce the noise at night, and the refrigerant is R290 which has a lower environmental impact than the more commonly used R41A.
This is a very powerful air conditioner, and if you leave it on for long enough it can make even large rooms feel very cold – but the heat hose can get awfully warm, so you want to make sure it's going out of the window so it doesn't undo the Chillflex's hard work. The quoted 64dB is fairly average for air conditioners, and sleep mode takes it down to just 52db.
The Chillflex Pro is big and clever, but the price tag for this top-end model is on the high side too: if you don't need quite as much cooling for quite so much space, there are more modest models in the range including the entry level 26U337CW, which is rated 9,000 BTU/h and for room sizes of up to 18m2.
Meaco is a UK company that produces a wide range of air cooling, purification and dehumidifying products so it knows a thing or two about moving air and doing things to that air in the process. This new 14,000 BTU model is ideal for rooms between 25 and 35m² and features three fan speeds and a low temperature setting of 16ºC, which is the norm for the majority of portable air con units and indeed most cars.
As is the case with every portable air con unit we’ve seen, it comes with a concertina tube to the expel the hot air it creates and, in this case, a special window kit designed ostensibly for sliding windows or doors. It also comes with a remote control.
To use, simply select a preferred temperature (from 16ºC upwards), select either your 'Speed', and before long the room’s temperature and humidity will drop to much more comfortable levels. When the room eventually reaches the preset temperature, the machine will switch off and then switch on again as soon as the internal temperature rises.
We tested it with the rear exhaust port positioned in front of a fireplace flue rather than a window, and it worked impeccably well. Sitting two metres away, it was like being in a car with the air-con on full bore. Indeed, I had to raise the temperature setting a few degrees for fear of freezing to death.
Granted, there's some noise – all portable AC will make a bit of a racket – so it’s not ideal suitable for use when you're actively sleeping, even in low speed mode, which registers 53dB on the decibel meter. Unless you’re a heavy sleeper and someone who can nod off in a hurricane, we would advise switching it on an hour or two before going to bed and keeping the door closed for maximum cooling potential.
Our full MeacoCool MC Series 14000 review explains everything you need to know about why this such a great all-round choice.
I can't personally vouch for the quality of this 7,000BTU portable air conditioner, but it has one massive thing in its favour: it’s definitely in stock now and Appliances Direct can get it to you tomorrow if you order today (UK only).
With casters for easy manoeuvring, it can effortlessly chill a room up to 18m². It has generally solid user reviews from Revoo, with an overall rating of 7.7 from 295 reviewers and few signs of anyone actively hating it.
At a maximum 48dB this slimline air con has 2.2kW of power and 7,000BTU it can cool your bedroom, at speed. A 24-hour timer means you can pre-cool while you're out, too.
Coming with a remote control and 12-month warranty, this machine is hardly the most gorgeous product ever, but you'll love how cool it makes your bedroom. Anyway, at just H 68 x W31 x D33cm and with wheels on the base, it's easy to hide away somewhere nobody will see it, until the temperatures get fierce again.
Need more power? The same store has a 12,000 BTU Electriq air conditioner (opens in new tab) that can chill rooms of up to 30 square metres in size.
In the arena of portable air conditioners, DeLonghi’s Pinquino PaceX100 (opens in new tab) Silent looks a bit less, er, hideous than most. In fact, the off-white front fascia with black display inlay could be considered fairly stylish. Shame the same can’t be said for its side profile, which is deep, bulbous and a bit butt ugly.
This 80cm tall air con sports a cooling capacity of 10,000BTU and is recommended for rooms up to 23m². It also dehumidifies the air in the process removing up to 32 litres per hour. Its digital interface and included remote control allow access to all main functions: temperature, fan speed and timer. I can also be used as a simple fan.
Portable air cons are loud by nature and this one is no exception. At full chat it hits between 53 and 64dB so you may only be able to stand its highest speed setting for short periods of time, especially if trying to watch television. Although the air con has received very positive user reviews for its performance and design, at £789 it’s pretty dear for a portable. And that’s why it hovers here at number four in the Hot Five.
Manufacturers’ specs often differ to real world use but, according to the blurb, this 12,000BTU model is ideal for rooms up to 22m² – and bigger if you believe Amazon’s description. It’s also fitted with an energy efficient heat pump that saves you money in the long term while minimising impact on the environment. Like the Meaco 10,000 it can also be used as a heater in the winter.
The Apollo is one of the most attractive unit on this page though at 82cm tall and 39cm wide it’s a big old beast with quite a large footprint. The top-mounted electronic display is straightforward but you can always access its functions – cool, heat, dry and fan – using the remote control. Pretty much all the air cons we’ve looked at or read about emit around 53dB of sound pressure and this one’s in the same ball park.
The Apollo is more expensive than the Meacos but then it is marginally more powerful and equipped with that money-saving heat pump. Nevertheless, both Meacos still represent better value in our eyes given the intermittent use in any given year, at least up here in Northern Europe.
Granted, this little square desktop unit isn’t a proper air conditioner but it is at least capable of blowing a chilled breeze from a few feet away. The Chillmax Air is equipped with an evaporator that uses water from a small 610ml reservoir to create a chilled moist breeze. This model comes with an antimicrobial sponge filter which runs up to 10 hours per refill.
At roughly 17cm square, the Chillmax is perfect for sitting on a computer desktop or table where the user is more likely to feel the benefits of its air-cooling technology. It’s also a great option for the bedside table since it’s really quiet and comes with a built-in night light. However, don’t expect it to make an ounce of difference to a room’s temperature because it’s strictly designed for personal, close-up use.
Portable air conditioners: what you need to know
These dandy chill blasters are really effective at cooling the air in a room, in most instances for less than the price of a Dyson fan. All you have to do is work out the size of the room you want to cool and select an AC unit with a suitable output, measured in British Thermal Units (or BTUs). A BTU is a unit for estimating thermal heat and it’s an important little acronym when it comes to selecting the right air conditioner for your abode. For instance, an air-con with 10,000 BTUs is good for a room of around 41m² while a 5,000BTU model is suitable for a room of about 14m². Hence, it’s pretty important to know your room’s measurements or the unit could underperform.
However, there is a caveat with portable units and it’s the heated air that’s pumped out of the rear exhaust port. As the ‘law of conservation of energy’ states, energy (in this case heat) ‘can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another’. Hence, you will need to port the heated air generated by the AC out of the home using the supplied concertina hose. This can be done by either cutting a hole in the wall or a window (the most effective and most costly method) or by simply dangling the hose out of a partially opened door or window.
Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a working open flue fireplace, you could place the air con unit directly in front of it and all the heat will go straight up the chimney; after all, it’s what the chimney was designed for. However, make sure you’ve removed as much soot as possible from the fireplace first or it’ll initially be blown all over your furnishings.
By their very nature, portable AC units are much louder than their built-in counterparts and that’s hardly surprising given that the compressors, pumps and fans are all in the same unit. By contrast, integrated systems have all the noisy stuff tucked away out of earshot so you rarely hear anything more than a gently whoosh. If you want a good night’s sleep with a portable air con in the room then you’re advised to turn it on a couple of hours before bedtime and keep the door closed. Then turn if off when hitting the sack.
Energy use and environmental impact are also worth considering. While modern AC units no longer use ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), they do sap a lot more power from the grid than a humble fan and that means slightly higher leccy bills and hence more pressure on the environment.
Now you know a bit more about air conditioning, time to dip into our carefully curated roundup of portable units for the UK and European markets.