The Best Portable Air Conditioners of 2021
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When it comes to staying cool, you've got options. While a fan might be the most energy efficient for temperatures under 90°F, once things get hotter, an air conditioner may be preferable.
Over the years, we've tested tons of cooling technologies, from fans to window air conditioners. Each has its own set of pros and cons, and we're here to talk about those of the portable air conditioner or PAC.
PACs are an alternative to traditional window units. They're ideal for a low-occupancy household that only needs to cool one room at a time with the flexibility to move from room to room. Portable air conditioners are easier to set up than window units; casters allow you to easily wheel the portable AC unit around your home. Ventilation hoses are built to be able to easily snap onto and off of an included window kit.
After testing some of the highest-rated portable air conditioners currently available, we've determined the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS (available at Amazon for $446.99) is the best one on the market. Not only does it offer superior cooling and room coverage, it's also the best value of the bunch.
While we liked this one best, there's still a lot of great portable air conditioners available out there.
These are the best portable air conditioners we tested, ranked in order:
Whynter Elite ARC-122DS
Black & Decker BPACT14HWT
De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX390LVYN
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
Best Overall Whynter Elite ARC-122DS
The Whynter Elite ARC-122DS packs a lot of cooling capacities into a relatively inexpensive package. During testing, it cooled an 81°F room down by about 20°F in roughly 20 minutes; then, it took another 15 minutes to get the room down to within a couple of degrees of its target temperature, 61°F. While not the fastest unit we tested, this was a remarkable performance for a PAC at this price point.
Similar to the LG, this Whynter has a high-quality build, and it boasts the best filter system out of the bunch. While most other PAC filters were large and flimsy—making them difficult to maneuver or snap out of place—the ARC-122DS's filter is a sturdy panel you lift out of the device vertically. It is, by far, the best-designed and easiest to use filter of the bunch—and given how little differentiates these PACs from each other, this is kind of a big deal.
The ARC-122DS is also fairly small and easy to move around and store. It is one of the more portable units we tested, which definitely means something for those who will need to lug their PAC up some stairs. However, taller folks may not love this size since a shorter model requires you to stoop down pretty far if you do want to move it around, and this may actually make it less easy to transport during room-to-room transitions.
No real handles; hard to pick up
$446.99 from Amazon
$592.99 from Best Buy
$446.99 from Home Depot
$494.89 from Walmart
How We Tested
Hello! I'm Mark Brezinski, and I've been testing and reviewing consumer tech for over a decade. At Reviewed, I’ve spent several years reviewing and developing tests for dozens of different categories, from cell phones to headphones to vacation cruises—and now portable air conditioners!
Every portable air conditioner went through the same testing regimen, which addressed both performance and user-friendliness.
A cooling test was our main performance indicator. We outfitted our testing chamber (200 square feet) with temperature sensors, placed at the center of each of its four walls, with a fifth sensor in the middle of the room. We set up a control sensor outside the room.
First, we heated up the room using a space heater to as hot as we could get it, and then we let our portable air conditioner testing unit run for two hours, taking measurements every minute from our sensors. The resulting data lets us see how quickly the portable air conditioner is able to cool down the whole room, and it verifies how good the PAC is at spreading its cooling air around the room.
Beyond our main performance test, we also assessed the usability of each portable air conditioner. We often see big differences among products in various categories, but for portable air conditioners, we observed little variation between the units we tested. Each has roughly the same control layout and was equally easy to use, set up, and move around.
Features were also relatively minimal, and while most units come with a remote control, there isn't much else in terms of extras.
We did observe one main difference: overall size and weight. Despite this, we didn't run into any problems moving any of them from room to room.
How Do Air Conditioners Work?
Credit: Getty Images / normaals
Air conditioners work by drawing in heat from the environment and moving it elsewhere.
An air conditioner takes in air from around the room (or outside) and passes it over coils filled with coolant. The coils extract heat from the air, then blow this cooler air back into the room. The machine exhausts its heat out the back of the device (window units) or through a ventilation tube (portable air conditioners).
This cooling process produces condensation, which either drips out the back of the device, drains into a reservoir that you need to empty, or is pushed out a single hose that you can run to a nearby drain, depending on the unit.
How do portable air conditioners and window units differ?
While portable air conditioners and window units both use the same technology to cool off a room, their implementation is very different. These differences often seem inconsequential to the average consumer.
Skimming through user reviews, you'll always find a few one-star testimonials full of details that indicate the purchaser either bought the wrong air conditioner for their home or that they expected a new portable air conditioner to behave the same way as their old window unit. This is like comparing apples to oranges, on the grounds that they're both fruit: While technically correct, you're losing a lot of nuance in the process.
Credit: Reviewed / Kevin Oliver
Window units can be heavy to lug to a window and difficult to install, but they are efficient at cooling down a room.
Window air conditioning units, like the GE Profile PHC08LY, are heavy, boxy-looking appliances. You install one by resting it on a window sill, lowering the window down to trap the unit in place, and locking the window in place to secure the unit, with an included kit or a spare L-bracket.
Window units are a pain to lug around and secure, but they're very efficient. Their design ensures the hottest and loudest parts are located outside your home, which results in less heat and noise getting recirculated back inside. Condensation drips out the back, onto the ground below.
Conversely, portable air conditioners are larger than window units, less boxy, and roll around the floor on casters. Portable air conditioners vent their heat through a tube that connects to a window kit. These kits are lightweight and can be installed in just about any door or window, allowing users to easily hook up and disconnect the unit's ventilation hose and move it from room to room, ensuring it's cool wherever you are.
Putting the portable air conditioning unit back into storage at the end of a season is often as easy as wheeling it back into a closet, no heavy lifting or difficult uninstallation required.
Unfortunately, there are some inefficiencies to portable air conditioners when compared to windows units, like that they need to vent the heat they remove through a hose and out the window. While most of the heat gets blown outside, some radiates back into the room, either from the device itself or from the sides of its ventilation tube, and this is why it's important to make sure the ventilation tube is as short as possible. The smaller the surface area of the tube, the less heat will be able to recirculate before getting blown outside.
Likewise, portable air conditioners are often louder than window units, since they're not able to funnel as much of their noise outside.
Portable units typically utilize a drip pan, reservoir, or drain hose to catch condensation, and, with the exception of the hose, they need to be emptied every so often. Continual-drainage systems typically implement a hose, which you can run to a nearby sink or floor drain.
Other Portable Air Conditioners We Tested
The Frigidaire FGPC1244T is capable of creating some very cold air. We noticed our central sensor measured a temperature drop of 20°F in only six minutes, which is incredibly fast. But it was just our middle-of-the-room sensor that registered this drastic drop. The FGPC1244T emits a more concentrated column of air, which can be great if you're the type to plop down in front of the AC while it works its magic. If you're mainly trying to cool the whole room, though, it may take longer or require enabling oscillation to spread air around a little better.
While the FGPC1244T is a bit tall, it's also thin, making it easy to maneuver via its large handles. While its height means it won't be the easiest portable air conditioner to fit into storage, its narrow form does make it easier to maneuver from room to room without stooping. If bending down is difficult, the FGPC1244T will likely be more portable than many of the smaller units we tested.
Like the LG, the FGPC1244T also features control via a smartphone app. A physical remote is included, but as we tend to prefer a world where our phone is the one remote we have to worry about, the app is very welcome.
The only minor annoyance we had with the FGPC1244T came to its filters. Both were simple to access, but they were also very thin and long: They tended to hitch and buckle when we tried to return them to their slots. Otherwise, though, a solid portable AC and one of the more refreshing ones on our list.
Fast cooling performance
Large size; less portable
$599.99 from Amazon
The Frigidaire FHPC132AB1 offered nearly identical performance to the aforementioned Frigidaire FGPC1244T. It was capable of some very cold air, chilling the sensors in its path about 20°F in a speedy seven minutes. The other sensors around the room took about 20 minutes to get down to their lowest temperatures. Again, it is not our fastest cooling unit, but it's not the slowest either. And you can always opt to sit directly in front of its chilly blast while you wait for the room to cool down.
Unlike the other Frigidaire, the FHPC132AB1 is much smaller and squatter: It's one of the easiest to fit into storage, but you have to bend pretty far over to access its handles. Also, this PAC lacks WiFi control support, so you're stuck with onboard controls or the tiny, included remote.
Small size for easier storage and portability
A bit slow to cool the whole room
$439.95 from Amazon
$519.00 from Home Depot
The Whynter ARC-14S is able to cool an area about 22°F in 20 minutes, which is about average for this group of portable air conditioners. During testing, the sensors that were less directly in the path of the cold air took about another 20 minutes to get the room down to its maintenance temperature.
While its small size makes it easy to move around, the ARC-14S doesn't really have any handles to grip onto making portability more difficult than most. The unit features edges towards its bottom, but these can only accommodate fingertips. Pushing it from room to room is relatively simple, but actually hoisting it up is difficult without any real handholds.
One of the more notable aspects of the ARC-14S is that it uses more eco-friendly parts than the typical portable air conditioner. Its refrigerant is CFC-free, and the unit uses lead-free, RoHS-compliant components. Air conditioners historically haven't been the most environmentally safe of appliances, due largely in part to their refrigerants. So, we're glad this Whynter tried something new here and is fairly successful at it.
If you want to support companies that produce less dangerous products without losing much functionality in the trade-off, the ARC-14S is a good choice.
Decent cooling performance
Was slow to cool a whole room
$520.86 from Amazon
$652.99 from Best Buy
$507.08 from Home Depot
$522.76 from Wayfair
The Honeywell HL12CESWK is a solid portable air conditioner overall, with just a few minor issues. It is capable of a pretty cold jet of air, but it's not the greatest at spreading that cold around a room—which can be annoying if you're limited in terms of where and how you can install the unit. During testing, it also had gaps of a few degrees between each individual sensor, which isn't a lot, but it does indicate there will be some warm and cool spots around the room.
We aren't fans of how flimsy the plastic is on its filter. The internal filter is very thin and snaps into place on the cover, but the filter is so flimsy that trying to unsnap it from the cover causes a lot of bending and feels like you could break something.
In terms of portability, the HL12CESWK is a mid-sized device. Its pocket handles sit a bit lower than other portable units of a similar size, so this means more stooping, which might make it less portable than some of the other options on this list.
Very small and portable
Very cold in front of the device
Slow to cool down an entire room
Buy now at Amazon
$549.99 from Best Buy
$499.00 from Home Depot
$629.99 from Overstock
Black & Decker BPACT14HWT
The performance of the Black & Decker BPACT14HWT was one of the slower PACs on our list, albeit by a small margin. It required about 25 minutes to cool down our testing chamber, and even so, its cooling spread was a bit uneven, leading to a few degrees difference between our sensors, though not as much as the HL12CESWK.
The implementation of the removable filter could have been better: Its outer panel is a bit awkward to get to snap back into place.
In terms of portability, the Black & Decker BPACT14HWT's small size and relatively low weight make it easy to store away or lug up the stairs. On the other hand, its pocket handles are located a bit low on its sides, which can make it a bit awkward to move around without stooping over.
Somewhat uneven cooling
$479.99 from Amazon
$549.99 from Best Buy
$499.00 from Home Depot
$629.99 from Overstock
The Homelabs HME020235N portable air conditioner displayed mixed performance. On one hand, it was able to get the air around its closest sensor 22°F cooler in an incredibly fast five minutes. However, outside of this sweet spot right near the device, the unit does not achieve that kind of cooling, showing an almost 10°F difference with the rest of the room, even after the room had gotten down to its lowest temperature.
The flimsy plastic of the filter and its covering panel makes cleaning more of a chore than it needs to be, but otherwise, the build quality of the device is pretty good.
The HME020235N's pocket handles are located towards the top of the unit, which makes it easier to move from room to room, but its height also makes it less ideal if you need to lug it up stairs.
Very fast to cool a small area
Slow to cool a whole room
Buy now at Amazon
De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX390LVYN
The De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX390LVYN rounds out our list. Looking at the graph of temperature over time, the Pinguino does a pretty good job at cooling down a room. In the first eight minutes, the average temperature in the room had dropped by about 20 degrees, and after 15 minutes the room was within a degree of the unit's target temperature, 64°F. Of course, the issue here is that just about every other PAC on this list is capable of hitting temperatures a few degrees colder, which puts this Pinguino at a slight disadvantage. If 64°F is cold enough for your needs, then the Pinguino will do a great job.
In terms of portability, we think the Pinguino lands in the middle of the pack. It has an average height and weight, with pocket handles located about halfway down the sides of the device. While you'll have to stoop to pick it up, it is easy to grip and lug around once you have it lifted.
$599.99 from Amazon
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