For the past few years, several companies have been trying to create the perfect portable air conditioner, and it’s a task that’s taken on new urgency as extreme heat waves spread across the United States.
They’ve tried self-cooling undershirts, wrist-worn cooling plates, and windowless cooling machines, all for the sake of conserving energy without sacrificing comfort. But so far, none seem quite as practical as the Coolify, a $150 wearable that hangs around your neck. Think of it as an extremely fancy version of the $20 bladeless neck fans that you can buy from generic vendors on Amazon.
Torras, the Shenzen-based company behind Coolify, says its version is different from those cheap gadgets, even if it looks similar on the surface. That’s largely because of its ceramic cooling plate that sits right behind your neck. By running an electrical current between a semiconductor and the plate, the device creates a cooling sensation via a property called the Peltier effect.
“Basically, a neck fan can sometimes just blow hot air around,” Torras spokesman Jackson Wightman says. “This is genuinely an air conditioner as a result of the cooling plate.”
These kinds of claims make me instinctively skeptical, but after trying out a Coolify review unit—and buying a $20 neck fan on Amazon to compare it with—I can say the fancy version is refreshing in ways that cheaper alternatives aren’t, even if I’d hesitate to call it an air conditioner myself.
How Coolify works
The Coolify comes in glossy plastic and has circular speaker grilles on either side of its horseshoe design, somewhat resembling a pair of headphones. Look through either grille, and you’ll see a spinning fan that draws in air and pushes it out through the long pair of vents above. (There’s another differentiator from cheaper neck fans: It has vents on both the top and bottom sides so that more of your neck feels the breeze; they’re also designed to keep your hair from getting pinched.)
The device runs on a built-in battery that charges via USB-C. Torras says the battery lasts between two hours and eight hours on a charge, depending on which of its three fan speeds you select. That lines up pretty closely with my own experience.
One inherent downside to the Coolify, and to neck fans in general is they’re unapologetically dorky looking. I wore it to a backyard barbecue last weekend, and if I wasn’t just with close friends and family—and my reputation as a techie wasn’t cemented already—I probably would have been more embarrassed about it.
Then again, pretty much everyone wanted to try it for themselves, and they were all pleasantly surprised by its cooling effects. And of course, I had no shame about wearing it at home, both after coming in from a hot day outside and in the late afternoons when the sun beats through my home office window.
To my surprise, the cooling element does make a difference compared to cheaper neck fans, albeit one that’s more subtle than overt. While the Peltier effect is a real phenomenon—my colleague Katharine Schwab notes that it was discovered by the French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier in the 1830s—it’s nothing like the chill that comes from a central air conditioner filled with Freon.
A geeky luxury
The cooling plate approach has some other flaws as well It’s not safe to run for long stretches at a time, so Coolify shuts off the radiator after 30 minutes of use, even as the fans themselves continue to spin.
Still, I found that having air blown up toward my ears started to feel weirdly disorienting after a while, and that Coolify feels most delightful when you first turn it on. Taking occasional breaks from using it wasn’t such a bad thing.
My only other complaint is that there’s no way to wear the fan backwards. Putting it on the regular way pushed most of the air up around the sides of my neck, but spinning it around allowed the back of my neck to cool down as well. Unfortunately that requires holding the fan in place the entire time.
Spending $150 on this might seem excessive. But the real appeal of a device like Coolify—and of wearable air conditioners in general—is that they can spare you from having to crank the AC when just one person is feeling hot. The Coolify fulfills that goal, so it could arguably pay for itself in the long run.
Or at least that’s what you tell people when you show up with an expensive hunk of plastic hanging around your neck.