Best Portable Air Conditioner of 2020
Best Overall Portable Air Conditioner
The Honeywell HL10CESWK rolls exceptionally easily and has comfortable handles when you do need to lift or carry it. It also has one of the easiest window inserts to install and remove, requiring no tools at all. It is relatively quiet and scores well in our energy consumption test, earning it our top overall honor.
This model didn't do amazingly well in our cooling tests, taking longer to cool down our test room than other A/Cs — even those with a lower BTU rating. It is also on the more expensive side of our lineup. It is an excellent option if you are planning on moving your portable A/C around a ton and is pretty much as mobile as these products get, though it isn't the best option for those in the hottest regions.
Read Full Review: Honeywell HL10CESWK
Best for Cooling Power
Whynter ARC-122DS Elite
Earning one of the top scores of the entire group, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is an all-around fantastic portable air conditioner. This unit is exceptionally quiet and unobtrusive, making it a great option if you have a hard time focusing or sleeping with white noise in the background. It also did fairly well in our cooling performance tests and is reasonably portable. It is a dual-hose air conditioner, which cools much better than single-hose models when outside temperatures are extremely high, making this unit a great option if you live in a hot climate.
However, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is one of the more expensive models in this review in terms of initial investment and receives a lackluster score in our energy consumption assessment. This portable A/C also has a large overall size and a double-hose system, which makes it visually intrusive. Despite these flaws, the ARC-122DS ELite is one of our top recommendations for anyone that needs maximum cooling power in the hottest locales.
Read Full Review: Whynter ARC-122DS Elite
Best Overall Bargain Buy
If you are looking for an all-around A/C unit that won't break the bank, then we think the SereneLife SLPAC10 is a great value option. This product holds its own against or even outperforms some models that cost quite a bit more, and we love how easy this machine is to move from room to room with the tool-free window insert setup. It did reasonably well in our cooling performance tests and had relatively below-average energy consumption compared to other products.
However, we did find that while it did a decent job at cooling our test space down, it couldn't quite compete with some of the larger dual-hose units. We don't think this will be an issue for most people, but we would suggest going with a larger and more powerful unit if you live in exceptionally hot areas (routinely 100+ degrees Farenheight) and are going to be running the A/C constantly.
Read Full Review: SereneLife SLPAC10
Best for Tight Budgets or Small Rooms
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT is far from our favorite portable A/C overall, but it is a good option if you are shopping on a budget. It is best for cooling a smaller room or for those with light to moderate cooling needs. It is relatively energy-efficient compared to other models, reasonably easy to roll around, and doesn't create an obtrusive amount of noise.
However, this air conditioner definitely can't compare to the top-tier models when it comes to cooling impact. It struggles to be effective if it is unusually warm outside or if the room is large. The window insert also isn't the easiest to install. While the cooling power of this air conditioner didn't earn it accolades, it is a product we would recommend if you are budget-constrained when shopping for a new A/C and can get away with its limited cooling power.
Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT
Great for Large Rooms
The Whynter ARC-14SH is one of our favorite dual-hose options. If you live in a particularly hot climate, then we recommend considering a dual-hose model. They are usually much more efficient than single-hose varieties, as you don't lose any cold air to the outside. It imposed one of the largest temperature drops on our test room over an hour and has the listed capacity to handle spaces up to 500 square feet.
Unsurprisingly, this A/C consumes quite a bit of electricity, and the dual hoses make it a little more cumbersome to move around and set up. It also tends to be on the expensive side, but it is our top recommendation if you need maximum cooling power.
Read Full Review: Whynter ARC-14SH
Why You Should Trust Us
We bought all the portable air conditioners used in this review from major retailers at retail prices. Our portable air conditioner testing and review team is composed of Austin Palmer and David Wise . Austin has tested dozens of different appliances for TechGearLab and grew up in the Houston area, making him exceptionally familiar with air conditioners of all types. David has a degree in mechanical engineering and lends his experience with data acquisition, instrumentation, and heat transfer to the design and execution of our testing process in addition to his extensive background reviewing home products.
We tested out these air conditioners hour after hour in the peak summer heat, comparing their cooling power head-to-head using calibrated high-end thermometers and temperature loggers. We also weighed and measured the power draw of each appliance so you can know what you are getting into by running these models. Finally, we rated ease of rolling and carrying these supposedly portable products.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which portable air conditioner is the best of the best, we conducted extensive research and evaluated the top models currently on the market. We then bought the most promising models available and compared their performance side-by-side, grading them in four weighted rating metrics: Portability, Cooling Power, Noise, and Energy Cost.
Many of these products cost a pretty penny. The notable exceptions in our mind are the SereneLife SLPAC10 and the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT. These units both performed exceptionally well compared to the more expensive models. The SereneLife is our recommendation if you can spend a little more on your air conditioning investment, and the BLACK+DECKER is a good option if you are shopping on a minimal budget. Even better, both these models did reasonably well in our energy consumption test, potentially helping keep your electricity bills down as well.
Since cooling a room is the primary use for each of these products, this is one of the most important and heavily weighted metrics in our test. To rank and score the cooling power of these units, we compared how well each product could cool our test room in 60 minutes. While these units all have different BTU and room size ratings, our 161 square foot test room was well within the listed performance ratings of each product.
We did the test at the same time each day in the middle of summer, with similar amounts of sunlight entering the room to keep the outdoor temperature as controlled as possible. We then heated the room with a set of space heaters — usually well above 90°F — and then let the room reach a steady temperature before starting the test, so we didn't artificially improve the cooling power of the A/Cs as it naturally cooled off. We measured the starting ambient temperature and recorded the temperature drop achieved in 60 minutes.
The Whynter ARC-14SH led the way in this test. This unit is rated for up to 500 square feet, and dropped the temperature of our testing room by 11.99°F.
A group of A/C units all tied for the runner-up position with moderate performance in our cooling challenge, including the Honeywell HL10CESWK, the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1, the SereneLife SLPAC10, and the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite. The 12,000 BTU Frigidaire has the highest room size rating at 550 square feet, but actually did the second-worst of this group, but only by a fraction of a degree.
The Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 chilled the room by 9.93°F, the Honeywell HL10CESWK lowered it 9.74°F, and the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite dropped it by an even 10°F. The SereneLife SLPAC10 just narrowly outperformed all of these units, dropping the temperature 11°F. We thought this was quite interesting, as there is a stark difference in the room ratings and BTU values of these models. The 10,000 BTU SereneLife is rated for 350 square feet while the 12,000 BTU Whynter Elite is rated for rooms up to 400 square feet. The Honeywell is a 9,000 BTU unit and is also rated for up to 400 square feet.
The Honeywell MN10CESWW and the LG LP0817WSR came next with lukewarm cooling efforts. We expected a little more from this Honeywell, as it is rated to cool a room up to 450 square feet, but only dropped the temperature of our 161 square foot test room by 8.66°F after an hour. The LG model dropped it even less, only reducing the temperature by 8.21°F, but is only rated for up to a 200 square foot room.
Finishing at the bottom of the list is the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT with the lowest temperature drop. This 8,000 BTU unit is allegedly effective for areas up to 300 square feet but only dropped the temperature in our smaller room by 6.4°F after 60 minutes.
After seeing how well these products cool a room, we moved on to evaluating and scoring how mobile these purportedly portable air conditioners are. This metric is based on how much effort it takes to roll each air conditioner around, how maneuverable they are, the ergonomics of the handles, the difficulty we had in carrying them, and how hard it is to install and remove the window inserts.
It turns out, portability is a relative term in this case. None of these appliances are especially easy to transport. While they certainly can be transferred from room to room on occasion, or removed and taken to storage seasonally, you probably won't move these units around from room to room throughout your day to save on energy costs, like you might move a space heater. On average, it probably took 15 to 20 minutes to remove the window insert, move the A/C to a nearby room, and reinstall the insert.
Claiming the top spot when it comes to portability is the SereneLife SLPAC10. This model is agile and maneuverable, effortlessly rolling across hard surfaces. It also isn't too horrible to carry for short durations, though it does tip the scales at a bit over 50 pounds, and we wouldn't be thrilled if we had to haul it up or down multiple stairs.
In particular, it was the ease of removing and installing the window insert that impressed us with this product and is what makes it so portable. Its tool-free installation process can be accomplished very quickly, minimizing the hassle to move this appliance to a different room.
The Honeywell HL10CESWK followed next. While this portable air conditioner isn't the lightest model we tested --weighing about 65 pounds — it is one the easiest to roll around, similar to the SereneLife SLPAC10. You can push it on hard floors and low-pile carpet without much effort, and it tracks in a straight line without the wheels oversteering.
The handles of this air conditioner are just above halfway up on each side and feel relatively comfortable to hold, with no sharp edges or lips that can cut into your hand. Unfortunately, we found these handles can get a little slick if your hands are sweaty — which is somewhat inevitable when carrying this 65-pound product around. Additionally, we liked that the window insert for this A/C is one of the easiest to install and disassemble. We also like that the window insert doesn't require any tools or screws to assemble. Instead, it is held together with push-in plastic tacks, which makes this one of the most straightforward products to move between windows.
The Honeywell MN10CESWW came next in this set of tests, as it's effortless to roll around and stay right on course. It is also easier to install the window insert, relying on wingnuts, rather than standard screws, so no tools are required. It isn't that much faster to install, though.
Unfortunately, the Honeywell MN10CESWW is a bit harder to carry. The handles are fine, but it weighs a bit more than some of the other options.
The majority of the models came next, including the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite, the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT, the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1, and the LG LP0817WSR.
The Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is fairly easy to roll around, offering barely any rolling resistance and is one of the more maneuverable models. However, we did notice that it can be finicky when it comes to turning, seemingly having a much greater affinity for continuing in a straight line than pivoting. It is also easy to set up the window insert, though it does require a screwdriver to tighten the pair of screws that lock in the length.
Unfortunately, this model is a giant pain to carry, having a somewhat inconvenient and difficult to hold handle design and is one of the heaviest models of the group.
However, the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 managed to be even harder to carry, weighing in at almost 20 pounds heavier and having awful handles that are quite painful to use.
This model redeemed itself by being surprisingly easy to roll around. It's very maneuverable and has very little rolling resistance, considering its bulk. It is also simple to install the window insert, with a tool-free process relying on a quick-release lever. However, we would recommend steering clear of this A/C if you live in a multi-level home and are going to be moving it upstairs and downstairs — the LG LP0817WSR is vastly easier to carry in our experience.
The LG LP0817WSR may be easy to carry, but it isn't the easiest to roll around. We noticed significant rolling resistance, and the steering can be a little finicky. Additionally, the window insert installation process is moderately challenging.
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT has the dual benefits of being both easy to carry and easy to roll around. It has virtually no rolling resistance and maneuvers similarly to the SereneLife SLPAC10. It is easier to carry than the Honeywell HL09CESWK, but a little bit more work than the LG LP0817WSR, even though it's about seven pounds lighter. The handles on this product are just a little too small, making it harder to lift. Finally, its window insert is more work to mount and remove, requiring a screwdriver as well.
Rounding out the back end of the group is the Whynter ARC-14SH. It leaves something to be desired in terms of its ease of transport. It has very little rolling resistance, but is a bit funky when it comes to maneuverability, as it swerves randomly and doesnt' seem to like rolling in a straight line.
The Whynter is incredibly difficult to carry, weighing in at 77.2 pounds. On top of that, it has tiny handles and isn't easy to hold. However, the window insert is easy to install and offers plenty of adjustability — much more than the LG LP0817WSR.
After lugging these (not so) portable air conditioners up and down staircase after staircase and across rooms, we were ready for a test that required a little less physical exertion. The noise metric consists of two tests: noise levels measured with our SPL meter and having a panel of judges rate the sound produced by each product.
When it comes to sound, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite and the Whynter ARC-14SH claim the top spot for being the least obtrusive. We measured the noise level from four feet away, with the meter's microphone out of the direct airflow of each portable air conditioner, and these two had some of the lowest results.
In particular, our judges liked that not only are both the Whynter models exceptionally quiet, but the sound produced by them also isn't exceptionally grating on the ear — something more akin to static or white noise that easily fades into the background.
Following the pair of Whynter models is the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1. This portable air conditioner is equally quiet on the SPL meter, but you can hear the compressor over the fan running — the exact opposite of the top models. This slightly distinctive sound is a bit more distracting and noticeable, dropping the Frigidaire's score.
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT and the Honeywell HL10CESWK are both above average in terms of their sound output. The BLACK+DECKER is just a little bit louder than the top models but doesn't have any standout tones, like the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1, making it a better option if you can deal with white noise.
The Honeywell HL10CESWK is reasonably quiet but can't match the Whynter models in terms of silence. The compressor on this model is louder than the fan but has particularly irritating tones on startup.
Next are the Honeywell MN10CESWW and the LG LP0817WSR. Each of these portable air conditioners is just a bit louder than the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT but also lacks any noticeably irritating tones.
Finishing at the back of the pack in this metric, the LG LP1215GXR and the SereneLife SLPAC10 are both on the noisier side. The LG model has a slightly louder startup noise, and we could occasionally hear some squeaking from the internal components when the fan was on low.
The fan seemed pointedly loud to us on the SereneLife SLPAC10 — enough that it could cause problems if you were trying to carry on a conversation close to it.
For our last rating metric, we estimated how much it would cost to run each of these models annually and, thus, how efficient they are. For our calculation, we assumed we would run each of these units for 12 hours a day for 90 days. We also assumed that the 12 hours was split, with two hours of the A/C being on a high setting to initially drop the temperature when you come home, then run on low for the remaining 10 hours to maintain the temperature at a comfortable level. We used 0.135 US cents per kWh for the cost of electricity in our calculations.
We measured the energy draw of each model for 30 minutes with a wattmeter on both low and high modes when the outside temperature was in the mid to high 80s to determine the average power consumption of each product. Of course, the number we arrived at for the annual cost isn't necessarily going to be true for you, as the prices of electricity can vary wildly across different areas at different times of the day and throughout the year. You may be in the tropics and need to run the A/C 365 days a year, in which case your annual cost is going to be tremendously higher than ours, but the relative ranking of the A/C units should remain the same.
If you are living in an area where you are going to be running the air conditioner during more than just the hottest summer months, you probably want to place a higher priority on this metric and take a closer look at models that performed well in these tests.
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT, the SereneLife SLPAC10, and the Honeywell HL10CESWK all topped the list in this metric. We estimate the BLACK+DECKER would consume about 864 kWh throughout the summer, with the Honeywell using just a little bit less at approximately 850 kWh. This assumption correlates to a projected cost of around $114 for the BLACK+DECKER and $112 for the Honeywell.
The SereneLife SLPAC10 would cost just a bit more to run on our estimated use profile, costing around $116 over the 90 days and consuming 883.8 kWh.
Performance dropped a bit with the next group, including the Honeywell MN10CESWW, the LG LP0817WSR, and the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite, all with a middle-of-the-road showing. The LG is estimated to use the least amount of energy of this trio in our model, projected at about 979 kWh and a cost of about $128 to run for the full summer. The Honeywell would use a bit more — about 980 kWh — and the Whynter would use even more electricity — just over 1000 kWh — to bring their estimated costs up to approximately $130 and $132, respectively.
The Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 and the Whynter ARC-14SH followed, earning low ratings in our power consumption metric. Our projected summer operating cost spiked with these two models, and we would estimate that they would add $155-$160 to your electricty bill using our model.
At this point, you should hopefully have a solid idea about which air conditioner is going to be your best bet when it comes to beating the sweltering summer heat and staying in your budget, all while being portable enough to move when you need it.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise