Small fans, which can be placed on a tabletop or desk, can't produce as much of a breeze as a big floor or tower fan, but they're powerful enough to cool a small space. Their small size makes them ideal for use in tight quarters, such as offices, cubicles or dorm rooms. They can also direct a cooling breeze on a single person who happens to prefer a cooler temperature than others in the same room.
According to our sources, the best fan in this category is the Dyson AM06 10 Inch Desk Fan (Est. $250). This is a revamped version of the controversial Dyson AM01, part of Dyson's Air Multiplier line, which first came out in 2010. The AM01's unique, futuristic design concealed the spinning motor in the base and sent air out through a ring-shaped opening. Owners loved the styling, and some were convinced that the "bladeless" design produced a noticeably smoother stream of air than a conventional fan – but professional testers were generally less impressed, saying the AM01 put out no more air, and no less noise, than a conventional fan costing one-tenth as much.
However, in 2014, Dyson redesigned its Air Multipliers to reduce their power use and noise level. Based on the reviews, it looks like the new AM06 actually does live up to the hype. In a detailed comparison test at TheSweethome.com, the AM06 put out more air than any other fan its size: 419 cfm at maximum speed. In fact, the AM06 actually outperformed some room-sized fans in the test, making it the one fan that's equally suitable for small and large spaces. With its ten speed settings, it can deliver the right amount of airflow for any space, and its oscillation feature helps it distribute air across a wider area. Other handy features include a sleep timer and a tiny remote control that attaches magnetically to the fan housing. And at 60 decibels, the noise it makes even on high speed isn't too loud for conversation. Overall, TheSweethome.com's Seamus Bellamy is so impressed with the Dyson AM06 that he declares it the first Dyson product he's ever found that's actually worth its high price.
Users love the Dyson AM06 as well, making it the top pick at four different retail sites. Many of the reviews for it on Target.com and Amazon.com are picked up from the Dyson website, but we also found hundreds of independent reviews on BestBuy.com and Amazon.com that give the fan high marks. Users say the fan is remarkably quiet, as well as easy to assemble and use. They also love its bladeless design, which not only looks great but is also very easy to clean. The main complaint we saw about the AM06, aside from its high cost, is that over time, it starts to develop an annoying clicking or grinding sound in its oscillation mode. However, most users don't appear to consider that a deal-breaker, given this fan's other benefits.
Great as the Dyson AM06 is, however, not everyone can justify spending $300 for a desk fan. That's why Bellamy, in his review, doesn't award the Dyson the title of "Best Desk Fan." Instead, that honor goes to the Holmes Lil' Blizzard (Est. $20), also sold as the Holmes Mini Blizzard. He says this fan's 274 cfm of airflow is "respectable" for its size, and the steady breeze it produces feels "less buffeting" than the wind from other fans in this class. He also likes its oscillation feature, small footprint, and low price.
The Lil' Blizzard has some faults, however. Bellamy acknowledges that, at 70 decibels, it's rather loud for such a small fan. Also, its flimsy plastic construction feels cheap. However, in reviews at Amazon.com, it doesn't have any more complaints about durability than most other fans its size, and Bellamy says the grille is sturdy enough to keep out poking fingers. So despite its flaws, he still consider it the best overall value in its size class.
The main complaint users at Amazon.com have about the Lil' Blizzard is that it's too loud. For those who want a quieter fan that's still inexpensive, user reviews point to the Honeywell HT-900 TurboForce Air Circulator Fan (Est. $15) as a good alternative. This fan, a smaller version of the Honeywell HT-908 Whole Room Air Circulator (Est. $25) that's covered in our section on the best floor fans, receives high overall ratings on every site where it's sold. Users say it delivers good airflow without a lot of noise, and they like its 90-degree tilting head, which allows them to redirect air throughout the room. It also appears to be fairly durable for such an inexpensive fan, and many users say it has held up well for several years.
Bellamy, however, is less impressed. He acknowledges that the HT-900's airflow rate of 361 cfm trumps the Lil' Blizzard's, but he says the quality of the breeze feels "weak and unfocused." He also notes that the HT-900 has a larger footprint than the Lil' Blizzard, lacks the oscillation feature, and has an "annoyingly small" control knob. Moreover, he finds that the pressure of a single finger is enough to bend the HT-900's safety grille, making this a poor choice for users with children.