Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know to stay cool this summer

It's time to chill out

Smart AC buying guide

Is it getting hot in here? You might need a smart air conditioning unit. While smart thermostats are the best way to keep the temperature of a whole home in check – and keep your energy costs low – smart AC units are a good alternative when you only need cooling for a few months of the year, or can't install a full heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, ducts and all.

Smart AC units are generally ductless, sometimes portable, and can be installed and uninstalled with much less faff than a whole home system. If you're thinking of getting one before another heatwave takes hold, we've put together a guide to cover everything you need to know.

Smart AC key things to consider

Smart AC units do a lot of the same things as smart thermostats. They let you control your cooling device remotely from outside the home or from the sofa, set schedules for when you want cooling to begin, and use smarts such as geofencing to figure out if you're home, away or on your way back, and adjust accordingly.

The first thing to do before buying a unit is look at your home and determine your needs. If you have multiple rooms to cool you will need one for each room. A good measurement to keep track of is BTU (British Thermal Units), which measures the power of the unit to cool – the higher the number the more powerful the AC is, and the more space it can cool. You'll need to know the square footage of the room you're looking to cool – about 20 BTU per square foot will mean you can you chill out. This chart can help you figure out the perfect combination.

One of the most popular options is a window-based smart AC. This is great for cooling a room, but you will need to sacrifice some of that skyline view, as it blocks half your window. These aren't too difficult to install; you just fit them to your window and plug them in.

Portable units are a great option if you have various rooms you'd like to cool at certain times of the season, as you can more easily move them around. These tend to have you plugging a hose or something similar through your window, but as they're movable you can get the coverage you want.

If you're looking to cool a larger room, you may want to consider a wall-mounted unit such as a mini-split. This will need to be installed by an electrician but generally are more powerful than window units. There aren't any "smart" versions on the market yet, but they can almost all be controlled by a smart AC controller.

If you already have an air conditioning unit you're happy with, a better option may be to install a smart AC controller that'll basically turn your existing unit smart. These tend to connect to the unit via infrared, the same technology your AC's remote control uses to talk to it. If you're renting, this can also be a good solution.


Smart air conditioners

Here's a look at some of your best options for smart air conditioning units, from all-in-one smart units to connected AC controllers, which are retro-fit devices that can make existing dumb units, smart.

Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

Frigidaire Cool Connect

From $349, Amazon | frigidaire.com

Frigidaire's Cool Connect takes the prize for sleekest looking window AC unit. Available in 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 BTU it can handle any sized room, and the companion app lets you create cooling schedules and turn it off remotely, and tells you when it's time to change filters.

The Cool Connect features two louvers, which are slanted upwards in an attempt to circularly distribute air around the room, so you shouldn't feel any hot or cold zones. As for smart home compatibility, you'll be in the clear with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Samsung's SmartThings. There's no HomeKit or geofencing support though.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

LG Dual Inverter Smart Air Conditioner

From $419, Amazon | lg.com

LG's Dual Inverter window air conditioner comes in four sizes, with three different power efficiency levels. The lowest is the $419, 9,500 BTU model; there are also 14,000, 18,000 and 22,000 BTU options, going up to $659. All the models use LG's SmartThinQ technology, which lets you take control from the app or, if you prefer, with Alexa or Google Assistant. Using your voice you can switch the LG AC on/off and even request it set to a specific temperature. It doesn't have geofencing so you'll have to remember to turn it on on your way home.

One of the best features of the Dual Inverter is that it constantly adjusts speeds to keep it efficient. And because of these gradual adjustments, it's less noisy than a lot of other AC units – LG reckons it'll get to 44 decibels, which is pretty reasonable in our book.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

GE Smart Window Air Conditioners

From $279, geappliances.com

GE has just announced a refresh of its line of connected window air conditioners, which get a sleeker new look and the addition of geolocation capabilities. Scheduling, energy monitoring and the ability to control multiple units in the GE Comfort app are also on offer, but the biggest thing here is compatibility with HomeKit – it's the only one to offer integration with Apple's Home app.

The devices also work with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT, so you can partner up with your ecosystem of choice. They come in a variety of power ranges – 8,000 to 24,000 BTUs – to cool medium- to large-sized rooms. These souped-up versions of last year's models will be available through The Home Depot, Lowe’s and local GE Appliances dealers soon.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

Frigidaire Cool Connect Smart Cylinder Portable Air Conditioner

$699, frigidaire.com

It's pricey but will fit into any situation, and when you've got to be cool, you've got to be cool. The Frigidaire Cool Connect portable AC unit has many of the same features as its window-dwelling brethren, although only one power option – 12,000 BTU. Control it with an app, track energy use, set schedules and get alerts when you need to clean the filter. Plus, control it with your voice using Alexa.

One neat feature, which helps make the price tag a little more palatable, is a built-in clean air ioniser that removes pollen and impurities. It also looks pretty nice for a portable AC unit.


Smart AC controllers

These products work with an already installed AC unit, such as a ductless mini-split, or any system that can be controlled by an IR remote. The remote has to have a display that shows the air conditioner’s current settings (for example mode, target temperature, and fan speed). These devices essentially replace the existing remote with an app on your phone and add in a whole host of smart features. Also, if your unit does both heating and cooling some of these can control both.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know, and our top picks

Sensibo Sky

$119, Amazon | sensibo.com

Sensibo Sky is a seriously great solution to the problem of 'dumb' AC units. It responds to your location and changes in temperature in the room, lets you control multiple units from one app, and its smart home integrations mean it works just like a wired smart thermostat and integrates into your smart home routines. It's on the expensive side for what is essentially just a box that translates infrared signals, but if this is a solution you need in your home, it's well worth it.

A small device about the size of your palm, Sensibo comes in white and black or black and grey. It has a modern look, with a matte plastic finish on the bottom and glossy plastic top half. Stick it next to the unit you want to control - window AC unit, a ductless mini-split, a portable unit, or any system that works with a remote - and you can now control the unit using your smartphone, by voice, and by setting up schedules and geofencing through the app.

We tested the Sensibo (read our full review here) and were very impressed with its capabilities. In particular the feature called Climate React, which mimics some of what smart thermostats can do by intelligently reacting to changes in temperature or humidity. For example, you can set it to turn the unit on if the temperature or humidity reaches a certain point or goes below a certain point. This means it can kick on even if no one is home, helping make it easier for it to cool when you do come back, and also potentially prevent damage to sensitive equipment in your home.

Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know, and our top picks

Sensibo works very well with Alexa and Google Assistant, and once linked you can ask your favored AI to turn your system on or off, or adjust the temperature by a specific number of degrees. We really liked the Google Assistant integration as on the Google Home device it brought up physical controls (which the Amazon Echo Show didn't) so you can control your device without having to get a smartphone out. Sadly, the IFTTT channel is a bit limited, but thanks to an open API there are good integrations with SmartThings and Homebridge. With all of these, you can add your Sensibo to routines, scenes, and automation as a "thermostat" and control it just as you might any smart thermostat.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

$129, Amazon.com | Ambiclimate.com

The Ambi claims to be the smartest smart AC controller around, employing AI to perfect your comfort and save you money. It does this by taking in to account weather, relative humidity and temperature and adjusting your climate accordingly – a bit like the Nest Thermostat does.

Plus, by doing things such as turning down the AC when a room hits the desired temperature, and then turning it back up if it detects a rise in the temperature and humidity, it's even more on par with the way a whole-home HVAC unit operates.

Another interesting feature is you don't choose a temperature; instead using the smartphone app you tell Ambi what your current comfort level is and have it adjust accordingly. It sounds super smart, but also slightly creepy. If you don't like it however, you can switch over to manual mode and operate it like a normal controller.

Ambi also has geofencing abilities so can adjust based on whether you're at home. You can set schedules and timers, and create rules to control the system with. It also integrates with Alexa and IFTTT and is by far the best looking AC controller on the market.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

Flair

$109, Flair.co

Flair approaches the whole AC controller role from a different perspective, it acts just like a thermostat – stick it to your wall and turn the knob to control your temperature. The Puck, as its controller is called, looks like a small white (or black) Nest; it's round with a dial and a display (e-ink).

You can have multiple pucks throughout the room, so the temperature is targeted to where you are. Each one has temperature, humidity, pressure and light sensors in it, and can be powered by two AAA batteries (the first Puck needs to be plugged in to power).

It's compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and along with using the app to set schedules and control the AC unit remotely, Flair can also pair with a smart thermostat from Nest, Ecobee or Honeywell. So if you have an HVAC system in your home and a mini split in say a sun room or extra room, you can enable Flair's Mini Split Mirror Mode and your mini split will always mirror your smart thermostat's settings. That's smart.


Smart AC buying guide: Everything you need to know

Tado Smart AC

£89.99, Amazon | tado.com

Tado is one of the biggest names in smart AC, and for good reason. It deftly balances the scale between affordable and feature-packed. It also manages to be one of the few products that's compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa, and HomeKit all at the same time – although currently just on the Smart AC Control V3+, available in the UK and Europe. The US version is $149 and has the same features, just no HomeKit.

Its newest device, the Smart AC Control V3, boasts a unique feature: smart window detection, which will either notify you to turn off your AC if a window's open, or do it for you for a monthly subscription fee.

Tado is all about saving you money – adjusting the temperature dynamically based on the weather and using geofencing to sense when you're away from home and turn your AC off. It also can know when you're coming back and cool your room to the perfect temperature.

Helping you control your energy usage are daily climate reports and monthly energy reports, and the option of adding Auto-Assist, which enhances the geofencing capability and open window detection feature by automatically applying the most efficient setting at the cost of $2.99/month or $24.99/year). Tado is so confident the Smart AC will save you money it also offers a 100-day guarantee. So if you aren't saving money after 100 days, you can get a full refund.


TAGGED   smart home

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