Canstar Blue’s 2021 portable air conditioners review has compared Arlec, Kogan and De’Longhi on reliability, functionality and features, noise while operating, ease of use, moveability, value for money and overall satisfaction.
See our Ratings Methodology.
Is an installed air conditioning unit not an option? Portable air conditioners are often the unsung heroes of hot Australian homes, helping to keep us cool and calm, no matter which room of the house you’re in. But these bad boys are not made equal, which means you have lots to think about before busting out your credit card in preparation for a hot summer. When it comes to upfront costs, reliability, functionality and ongoing electricity costs, there can be a big difference. To avoid any nasty surprises, let our latest review and ratings prevent you from getting too hot under the collar over your next purchase.
To find out which brand is blowing Aussies away, Canstar Blue surveyed almost 500 consumers for their feedback on the new portable air conditioner(s) they bought and used in the last three years. Manufacturers were scored on functionality and features, noise, moveability, ease of use, reliability, value for money and overall satisfaction. Those that received at least 30 responses are rated and compared above.
Arlec was the ‘wheel’ winner of our portable air conditioner ratings, scoring a clean five-star review across the board ─ including for overall satisfaction.
Here are the best portable air conditioners in Australia, as rated by consumers in Canstar Blue’s latest survey:
The decision was clearly a breeze for consumers after Arlec received five-star reviews across the board, including for functionality and features, reliability, noise while operating, ease of use, moveability, value for money and overall satisfaction. Online retailer Kogan was the only other brand to achieve full marks, including for functionality and features, moveability, value for money and ease of use. Kogan also got four stars for reliability and overall satisfaction. Meanwhile, De’Longhi rounded up the results with four stars in the majority of categories, and three stars for reliability and overall satisfaction.
To help you find the best portable air con to buy for your home, we list the different prices and features the brands in our ratings have to offer. We also look at other notable brands not included in our ratings, as well as the many factors to consider when buying a portable air conditioning system.
It’s important to note that this page only reviews portable air conditioners. Canstar Blue also has consumer ratings and reviews on permanently installed air conditioners if your home is better suited to that appliance.
Arlec has come a long way since starting out in a small laundry at the St George Hotel in Melbourne in the 1940s. Aside from lighting and electrical products, the brand also dips into the cooling and heating market with a range of portable air conditioners. Prices for Arlec air cons start from around $400 and max out at $1,000, with cooling capacities between 3.5kW and 4.3kW. Common features to expect throughout the Arlec and Coolway range include remote control, 12-hour timer, LCD display and four-way directional airflow.
Arlec’s portable air conditioner range includes (but is not limited to):
Arlec breezed through this year’s ratings with five-star reviews in all areas, including functionality and features, noise while operating, reliability, moveability, ease of use, value for money and overall satisfaction.
Australian online retail giant Kogan was founded in 2006 out of a garage, and over a decade later is powering through the appliances and electronics markets with established brands, as well as its own private label products for bargain hunters. Kogan produces a wide range portable air conditioner models, with prices ranging from $699 to $999.
Expect power ranges between 2.6kW and 4.7kW, with features such as various operating modes (air conditioning, dehumidifying, heating and fan, etc.) plus sleep and smart functions to automatically meet your cooling needs. Some also include a 24-hour timer, remote, and window exhaust connection kit.
There’s just one reverse cycle model (available in 4.7kW), at the time of writing, which additionally offers heating. Many models also include a dehumidifying mode and three fan speed settings, auto swing and a window exhaust kit.
Kogan’s portable air conditioner range includes:
Kogan achieved a cool five-star review for functionality and features, moveability, ease of use and value for money. It landed four stars for reliability and overall satisfaction, plus three stars for noise.
It’s perhaps best-known for coffee makers, but this Italian manufacturer creates small appliances for all around the home. De’Longhi’s flagship Pinguino portable air conditioner range includes several nifty models, with prices ranging from $649 to $999. Expect three fan speeds and a dehumidifier on some models, with others featuring reverse-cycle functions (i.e. can also produce heat).
Most models also use air-to-air technology, with smaller units coming with handles and castors that allow you to easily move the model from room to room without raising a sweat. De’Longhi’s budget-friendly air cons include a 12-hour electronic timer and thermostat, while mid-range models take the timer limit up to 24 hours. The latest range adds more power and features, as well as a higher price tag. All include LED displays and remote control, plus are said to be optimised for silent operation, producing a noise level of 64 decibels.
Some portable air conditioners currently available from De’Longhi include:
De’Longhi landed four stars for functionality and features, noise, moveability, ease of use and value for money, before scoring three stars for reliability and overall satisfaction.
The brands featured in this year’s ratings aren’t the only names worth checking out. Here are a few more popular manufacturers you might want to consider:
Midea comes to the fore with a compact range of portable AC units, with standard cooling capacities ranging from 2.7kW to 3.5kW. Most Midea models use an indoor inflow system for cooling and come with similar features across the range, including a 24-hour timer, dehumidifier function, three fan speeds, sleep mode, remote control, Wi-Fi connectivity (optional) and noise levels below 52 (dbA). Models from the range also come with handles, castors, and a ducting and window kit.
Here’s Midea’s range of portable air conditioners:
Specialists in home heating and cooling solutions, Dimplex offers several models of portable air conditioners. These units come in a range of sizes to suit different cooling needs, with cooling capacities from 2kW to 4.5kW, and are priced between $500 to $1,300. All feature a 24-hour timer with sleep mode, touch controls, a window kit and a nice smooth black and white finish. Most models come with a dehumidifier function, with the brand also selling a couple of reverse cycle portable air cons in 3.5kW and 4.4kW.
Some portable air conditioners currently available from Dimplex include:
Honeywell produces sleek black portable air conditioners. For larger areas, you might like to consider its 4.1kW model. The brand also has several evaporative coolers, with indoor models ranging between 10L and 30L. Honeywell additionally offers evaporative coolers that are suitable for both indoor and semi-outdoor environments, with tank capacities varying between a more powerful 40L and 60L. Prices start from just under $340 and go up to the $980 mark.
Several portable air conditioners from Honeywell include:
Exclusive to Harvey Norman, Olimpia Splendid features three models of portable air conditioners in sizes 2.8kW, 3.5kW and 4.1kW. Some functions include an Auto Mode, which allows the air con to automatically adjust its settings based on the temperature of your room, plus Dehumidification, Fan and Turbo Sleep Modes. This series additionally features an LCD display and a 12-hour timer. Olimpia Splendid portable air cons also have side handles and rotating castors to help make it easier to move around.
The Olimpia Splendid portable air cons currently available from Harvey Norman include:
Omega Altise boasts clean, contemporary looks to blend into any living space. It has a variety of portable air cons to choose from, mostly available in sizes from 2.6kW to 4.1kW. There are also several reverse cycle units, giving you a more budget-friendly option if you can’t install a split system unit but still want both heating and cooling functionality. Standard features include electronic controls with a remote control, 24-hour timer, dehumidifying mode and numerous speed settings. Prices start from around $500 for its smallest units.
Some Omega Altise portable air cons include:
Polo Cool is another popular brand for portable air conditioners. Its cheapest unit retails for just under $450, with 2.6kW of cooling capacity, while the more powerful units are priced between $680 and $1,400. Expect features such as numerous speed settings, LCD displays and some featuring an independent dehumidification mode.
Japanese brand Rinnai is all over heating and cooling your home with its air conditioners, portable air conditioners and portable heaters. Its portable air conditioner range features a 3.5kW unit and larger 4.1kW unit. Expect prices of around $850 and $1,000 respectively. Features include adjustable temperature controls, swing functionality and a delay timer. There’s also a dehumidifier mode to help remove moisture in the air and a sleep mode to adjust temperatures for energy efficiency overnight.
Here are the Rinnai portable air cons currently available:
There are two types of portable air conditioner mechanisms:
Refrigeration cycle units use the same basic cooling system as most large air conditioners. This type of air con works to transfer the heat in a room to a refrigerant gas (which is usually just plain old air in household air conditioners), which is then circulated out of the house to a condenser where the heat is dumped. This type of air conditioner must be connected to the outside of the building in order to dump the heat, which is usually done using a flexible hose that allows the unit to move around.
Evaporative cooling air conditioners pump air from outside through a screen that is partially saturated with water. This damp layer absorbs heat from the air. The cooled air is then pumped directly into the building or used indirectly to cool the condenser of a refrigeration system. The main advantage of an evaporative cooling unit is that it’s much cheaper to run than a refrigeration cycle unit.
Evaporative portable air conditioners also don’t require any external connecting pipes to circulate air – this makes them truly portable, unlike refrigeration cycle models. However, the use of water as the cooling mechanism has two main disadvantages. Firstly, the humidity of the cooled air is increased as it passes through the filter, which can be uncomfortable and less useful in humid climates. For this reason, evaporative cooling is likely best suited to hotter, dryer climates. Secondly, these coolers require a steady supply of water in order to operate, meaning you may have to regularly top up your unit on those hot days.
Portable air conditioners can be the perfect solution for anyone whose cooling needs are infrequent or temporary. This could mean just wanting to cool a single room at a time, or renters who only require a temporary way to keep cool in summer. Portable air conditioners are also much cheaper to buy upfront, meaning they’re ideal for households who may not be able to afford a full air conditioning system. Plus, more brands are producing reverse cycle models for households looking to pay a little extra on a unit that can heat and cool but can’t install an air con in the home.
The unfortunate flip side of portable air conditioners is their lack of power and features compared to larger, more expensive systems such as split system air conditioners. Additionally, portable units can be quite ineffective if they’re used to cool large spaces, such as larger bedrooms or living areas. They’re also not very energy efficient, which will probably cost you in higher electricity bills.
Here are a few advantages and disadvantages of buying a portable air conditioner.
|Portable & manoeuvrable||Less powerful than traditional A/C|
|Great for renters and those who like flexibility||Ineffectual cooling for large rooms, usually best left in small rooms|
|Often cheaper unit price than traditional A/C||Can still be expensive on a power to price ratio|
|Easy, fuss-free solution for quickly cooling a room||Can be relatively energy inefficient for their size, especially in larger rooms|
Many portable air cons cost between $500 and $1,300 which, despite being a significant investment, is much cheaper than the costs you’d incur by buying and installing a full-size air conditioning system. Our survey found that Australians who have bought a portable air conditioner in the last three years spent an average of $365 on a new model, much less compared to last year ($551). This is also quite a modest amount, especially considering portable air con models from major brands can cost around $600. It seems that many consumers are price-conscious when it comes to buying portable air conditioners, and probably because they’re often seen as short-term cooling solutions. However, a short-sighted approach could prove to cost you in the long run – after all, summer comes around every year!
Portable air conditioners lose much of their effectiveness when cooling large areas. Specifically, the amount of power you need from a portable air conditioner will depend on how much heat needs to be dissipated from the room. This naturally varies based on several factors such as room size, window size, insulation, humidity, etc. There are several online calculators that can help you discern how powerful an air conditioner you’ll need, but as a general guide:
|Room Size||Room Size|
Air conditioning units are rated either by their power requirement in kWs (kilowatts), or less commonly by the amount of heat energy they dissipate, measured in BTU (British Thermal Units). Most of the portable air con units we found online had an energy output of between 2.9kW and 5.3kW. Remember that running costs will naturally vary depending on your specific electricity rates.
General Guide Only
While portable air conditioners are generally quite sparse in the features department compared to larger models, there are still several useful functions and features you should look out for:
It could hardly be considered a ‘portable’ air conditioner if it can’t be moved around easily. These units can be quite heavy, which is why many models sport wheels to ensure the task of moving the appliance is an easy one.
Many evaporative air conditioners have a dehumidifier function to reduce the humidity of the cool air. Dryer air feels more comfortable and provides greater cooling.
Another useful feature is a timer control that allows you to set the unit to operate for a certain time or at a certain time of day, which can save you time and energy costs.
All air conditioners have some inherent vibration and noise, but more expensive models can have extra damping and insulation to reduce this.
Some units sport multiple condensers, to more effectively dissipate heat. Potentially, this could mean greater cooling power, but could also mean a more expensive running cost.
You’ll need to run a hose or piping from your unit out the window to vent all the hot air from the room. A window kit will streamline this process, but keep in mind that you will have to remove and reinstall the window kit every time you move the unit.
A remote control allows you to manage all the features and functions of the unit including the fan speed, temperature, timer and cooling function (fan only, dehumidifying only, conditioning).
Eco modes and automatic programs that allow the portable air con to automatically adjust its settings, based on the temperature of the room, are fairly common and a great way to ensure you’re not consuming an unnecessary amount of electricity. And with one in three (33%) respondents concerned about energy consumption, it’s certainly a handy feature to look out for.
An intuitive interface on the unit provides immediate feedback about your unit as well as display the temperature and settings being used.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider with portable air conditioners if you’re keen to get the best value for money possible. Taking a cheap option is always tempting, but it may also pay to shop around and spend a little extra on quality to make those hot days a bit more bearable.
This report was written by Canstar Blue’s home & lifestyle journalist, Tahnee-Jae Lopez-Vito. She’s an expert on household appliances, grooming products and all things grocery and shopping. In addition to translating our expert research into consumer-friendly ratings reports, Tahnee spends her time helping consumers make better-informed purchase decisions on all manner of consumer goods and services, while highlighting the best deals and anything you need to be aware of.
Picture credits: Doomu/Shutterstock.com.
*Prices are taken from retailer websites, Appliances Online and Harvey Norman, correct as of August 2021.
There are plenty of retailers that sell portable air conditioners, either in-store or online. These include:
Canstar Blue surveyed 6,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased a portable air conditioner in the last three years (this includes an air conditioner that can be picked up and moved, NOT one that is permanently installed and it does not include fans) – in this case, 492 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then by mean overall satisfaction. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.
These are the previous winners of Canstar Blue’s portable air conditioner review:
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*Prices correct as of publication date.