I love my marineland hex 5. Filter is in the hood so nothing to take up tank space except for the intake tube which is easily hidden by plants. The bio wheel holds BB when the filter is changed. Low flow allows my crowntail to swim as he pleases.
I have tanks ranging in size from 1 gallon up to 20 and I actualy find the smaller ones are easier - take the entire tank to the tub and dump it out, the refill as opposted to hauling around a storage bin and making several trips to dump out water. However, having cycled tanks is better in the long run for the fish.
I'd say that if you have a demanding job, one of the best things you can do for yourself is cycle your tank fishless. No daily water changes, no worrying, and no unexpected ammonia/nitrite spikes while you're away.
Other than that, I'd say a filtered 5 gallon is easiest in the long-run. I've also had both real and silk plants, and overall found the silk to be easier and cheaper (no fertilizer, no special lighting, and algae is easily removed), but that really is a matter of personal preference.
Can you cycle "fishless"? I don't think I've ever heard of that.
I think the easiest and healthiest would be a planted, cycled, filtered, heated tank of your choice, the bigger, the less work. (yes, doesn't make sense, but when it comes to aquariums, its true) once you get the balance right you will not have problem with even alga! You can start with some cheap fish to cycle your tank like danios. Talk to your local pet store an tell them you just want them to cycle your tank, and most will agree to take them back for half credit once your tank is ready! These fish are cheap and hardy! perfect for cycling a tank. You may want to wait to plant it though until after you get them out cause those bugers are fast! lol
Don't forget to post pics of your tank when up and running! We'd love to see it!
Thanks for all the advice! Would cycling WITH shrimp speed up the process? Im aware it can take up to 2 months... I just don't want to have to wait even more xD
Do you mean live shrimp? If so, I believe they are fairly sensitive to water parameters, so the cycle would likely kill them. I'd actually have to say that cycling with anything alive would just slow down the process because of all the water changes needed to keep ammonia and nitrite at tolerable levels. In a fishless cycle, you just dump in some pure ammonia or other source of ammonia (some people use fish food, but I found this method to be messy and much more time-consuming), and let things sort themselves out. One way to significantly reduce cycling time is to put some filter media from an established aquarium into your new filter. I always cycled this way and the entire process usually took between 10 to 14 days (note, however, that I did use a slightly lower dose of ammonia than recommended because my tanks were all very low bioload betta tanks that would only house a single fish per 5-10 gallons of water). Hope this helps!