There are around 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year in the United States  and the vast majority are fatal. Many of these deaths are preventable, and having the right portable defibrillator on hand can make all the difference.
When buyers ask us to recommend the best AED, we usually provide the same answer: The Philips HeartStart OnSite. However, the best model for you may also be influenced by factors such as your level of medical knowledge, your budget, and the surrounding environmental conditions.
What Is an AED & When Is It Needed?
Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are medical devices that are designed to deliver an electric shock to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). These devices provide step-by-step instructions via voice prompts that tell the rescuer what to do. The idea is to enable a bystander without medical training to provide the required shocks to an SCA patient before medical professionals arrive on the scene.
In sudden cardiac arrest, the chambers of the heart only quiver rather than beat. This is often due to an arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation. After a few minutes without blood flow, the patient’s vital organs (including the brain) start to die. Immediate chest compressions, defibrillation from an AED device, and prompt medical attention are essential for saving the person’s life.
Why Purchase an AED?
Many states require certain facilities to have an FDA-approved AED unit onsite. These are generally facilities where large groups of people gather, such as public buildings, or facilities such as fitness centers where the likelihood of a cardiac emergency is statistically higher. Selected states also have laws mandating AED training to ensure staff members know how to operate their facility’s device correctly.
Even when it’s not required by law, some people choose to purchase an AED/defibrillator for their organization or even their home. Knowing that you have a portable defibrillator nearby provides peace of mind—especially if someone who lives or works there has a heart condition that could put them at a higher risk of suffering cardiac arrest.
How to Choose a Portable Defibrillator
First and foremost, you should always choose an AED that’s approved by the FDA and protected by a manufacturer’s warranty. In addition, certain qualities are non-negotiable when comparing defibrillators:
- Ease of use
- Biphasic defibrillation
- A lightweight, rugged build
- Readiness at a moment’s notice
In addition, a quality defibrillator should be cost-effective so that it’s accessible to the greatest number of people and more likely to be available in an emergency.
We have several guides that outline our best AED recommendations for specific settings. However, the following advice relates to AEDs in general and the models that we find to be the most user-friendly and helpful in a range of situations.
Philips HeartStart OnSite
The Philips OnSite earns our pick for the best portable defibrillator because it meets or exceeds all of the standards listed above and still offers a record-low cost of ownership. Consider its features:
Ease of Use
Usability is the most important feature you want in an AED.
Immediate CPR coupled with defibrillation can quadruple a patient’s chance of survival following SCA, but the prognosis decreases with every minute of delay. In other words, it’s largely up to bystanders and lay responders to take action before emergency services can arrive.
Most lay responders won’t know how to make split-second decisions about whether or not to administer shocks, and a majority won’t know the proper CPR protocols. An easy-to-use AED will account for that, providing calm and clear voice instructions that include CPR coaching. This puts treatment within the reach of any novice user.
Why the Philips OnSite Hits the Mark: This is one of the easiest AEDs to operate. Just press the green button to get started, and follow the calm voice instructions. The pads are labeled for optimal chest placement, and the SMART Analysis feature conducts precise heart assessments to optimize treatment according to the patient’s condition. If it’s unsafe or ill-advised to deliver an electric shock, the device won’t let you. It’s safe for anyone to use. The OnSite is even equipped with audible CPR guidance and a metronome to help you maintain the optimal pace of chest compressions.
A biphasic defibrillator delivers current in two directions, reversing course between phases. Biphasic waveforms have been proven in numerous peer-reviewed studies to deliver better patient outcomes with fewer side effects compared to monophasic waveforms.
Why the Philips OnSite Hits the Mark: Philips is the world leader in biphasic AED technologies. The company was the first to use biphasic waveforms in an automated external defibrillator (the HeartStart ForeRunner), and its patented SMART Biphasic technology is featured in the OnSite.
Children under 8 years old and less than 55 pounds have special defibrillation needs. They require less shock, unique pad placement, and less aggressive chest compressions. A child-friendly AED will have specialized settings or pediatric pads that instantly modify the instructions and shock delivery for pediatric use.
Why the Philips OnSite Hits the Mark: The Onsite is compatible with Philips’ Infant/Child SMART Pads. Simply connect the pad cartridge to the AED, and the device instantly modifies its voice instructions and reduces the shock delivery from 150 Joules to 50 Joules. The pads are clearly labeled for child use, and they’re diagrammed for easy placement.
A Lightweight, Rugged Build
When shopping for the best portable defibrillator, you want a device that’s small, easy to carry, and able to take a beating. Quite often, you’ll have to run long distances in a frantic hurry to deliver treatment. The device may get jostled, dinged, or dropped. You also have no way of knowing the kinds of weather conditions you’ll be facing when you provide treatment. With that in mind, you need a device that’s designed to withstand drops, shocks, vibrations, moisture, dust penetration, and extreme temperatures.
Why the Philips OnSite Hits the Mark: The OnSite weighs just 3.3 pounds, making it one of the lightest AEDs in its class. It can withstand a 1-meter drop to any edge, corner, or surface, and it’s capable of operating in temperatures ranging from 32 °F to 122 °F. It can even function in up to 95% relative humidity.
Readiness at a Moment’s Notice
You need a device that’s ready to respond as soon as an emergency strikes. You won’t have time to perform readiness tests or switch out an expired battery. The best AEDs perform daily, weekly, and monthly self-tests, ensuring continuous readiness without delay.
Why the Philips OnSite Hits the Mark: The OnSite performs a full 80 self-tests per month. If any issues are detected, or if you’re nearing the expiration date on your pads or battery, you’ll receive instant alerts.
Other Top AED Models
The Philips HeartStart Onsite is our top pick if you’re buying your first AED. However, the following models offer features that can be helpful in specific settings and situations.
ZOLL AED Plus
The ZOLL AED Plus is one of the most user-friendly devices from ZOLL and is designed with untrained bystanders in mind. Red crosshairs show the rescuer exactly where the pads should be placed and the CPR feedback feature lets the rescuer know whether they need to push harder, faster, or slower to make their chest compressions more effective. If the patient is a child, simply plug in the ZOLL Pedi Padz II (sold separately) and the device will modify the shocks and voice coaching automatically.
Defibtech Lifeline AED
The Defibtech Lifeline AED is an easy-to-use defibrillator that sells at a competitive price point and comes with an 8-year warranty. This AED model comes in a bright yellow color to make it easy to locate and has indicator lights that reinforce the voice instructions. Updating the software is very easy with this device as all you need to do is insert a data card and the device will do the restwith no internet connection required.
HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P
The HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P is a very strong, very lightweight AED that is ideal for challenging environments. This defibrillator has the highest durability rating of any portable defibrillator on the market (Military Standard Drop Test and IP56 Dust & Water Rating), making it ideal for ski slopes, ice rinks, and sporting facilities in which the defibrillator may need to be transported quickly across long distances. This model is also very easy to maintain: The battery and pads come in a single cartridge (available in adult and pediatric versions) and you simply replace the entire cartridge every 4 years.
Top Advanced AEDs
These advanced AEDs have additional features that are highly valuable for people with medical training or those who want greater customization.
- ZOLL AED Pro: This professional-grade model has a high-resolution LCD screen and is designed with both medical professionals and lay rescuers in mind.
- Physio-Control LIFEPAK CR2: This advanced AED allows chest compressions to continue during ECG analysis, has optional bilingual capabilities, and adjusts the volume of voice instructions for noisy environments.
- Cardiac Science Powerheart G5: The Cardiac Science Powerheart G5 provides text and voice prompts, comes with optional bilingual capabilities, and uses variable escalating energy—based on the response of the patient’s heart—for the highest possible chance of a positive outcome.
FAQs about Buying a Portable Defibrillator
How Much Does an AED Cost?
At the time of writing, the cost of an AED ranges from around $1,400 to $2,500 and above. This is a small price to pay for the assurance that you are ready to respond to a cardiac emergency.
Can You Get an AED for Your Home?
Anyone can buy an AED with a doctor’s prescription. The AED owner will be responsible for following all of the relevant requirements and laws.
Does Insurance Cover the Cost of an AED?
Usually, insurance will not cover the cost of an AED. However, some insurance providers might cover the cost if you have a condition that puts you at an increased risk of SCA and your physician prescribes an automated external defibrillator.
How Do You Maintain an AED?
Do You Need to Complete an AED Course?
AED training is mandated in some states and recommended in others. We would always recommend completing CPR and AED training so that you’re confident you know how to recognize cardiac arrest and can respond quickly and effectively if one occurs.
Which Is the Best Portable Defibrillator for You?
All automated external defibrillators are designed to be easy to use and to deliver the most effective shock to the patient. With that in mind, the best AED for you will ultimately come down to:
- Your knowledge and skill level
- Your budget
- Features that could be helpful in your setting
- Personal preference
For beginners, the Philips HeartStart Onsite is hard to beat. It has everything you need to perform a rescue and comes with a low overall cost of ownership. If you want a model that provides the option to toggle between two languages, adjusts the volume automatically, or has a high-resolution LCD screen, another AED might be a better choice.
Our recommendation is to browse all of the available models and make a note of the features that could be helpful in your situation. You can also talk with a customer service representative and ask for advice. At the end of the day, a working defibrillator (in any model) is much better than none!
- Benjamin EJ, Virani SS, Callaway CW, Chamberlain AM, Chang AR, Cheng S, Chiuve SE, Cushman M, Delling FN, Deo R, de Ferranti SD. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2018 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2018 Mar 20;137(12):e67-492. Table 16-1.