Last updated: August 5, 2021

Not every appliance needs to be connected to the power supply continuously, not every appliance needs to run all day. Unplugging such devices when you don't need them is quite a hassle. Digital timers in particular offer a remedy here, as they can be used to control several appliances individually.

With our large digital timer test 2021, we would like to help you distinguish between the digital timers on the market based on a wealth of information, advantages and disadvantages. In this way, we want to make your purchase decision as easy as possible and ensure that you can find the right digital timer model for you.




Summary

  • Digital timers can help you reduce your electricity consumption by limiting the power to unused appliances during periods you can program.
  • You can identify three types of digital timers, named according to how and where they need to be installed. There are digital surface-mounted timers, digital flush-mounted timers and digital socket timers.
  • Numerous functions and features ensure that you can buy a digital timer that is perfectly tailored to your needs.

The Best Digital Timer: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a digital timer

What is a digital timer and what is it used for?

With a digital timer - also called a "power timer" - you can control the operation of an appliance by turning on the power at certain programmable times and turning it off at other times.

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For example, you can use a digital timer to control when your outdoor lights should be on during the Christmas season. This way you don't have to switch them on and off every evening and morning, and you save electricity at the same time.
(unsplash.com / Jari Hytönen)

If, for example, you only want the lamp at your house entrance to burn at night, you can programme the timer for a period from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. and thus create a complete circuit only during this period.

In our research, we were able to find the following typical target devices for digital timers: Lighting, pool pump, circulation pump, distribution installation, circulation pump, heating and fuse box.

When does a digital timer make sense?

A digital timer makes sense when you want to limit the current flow of a device, i.e. when there are devices that should not be in operation all the time. For example, an interconnected timer can ensure that the underfloor heating in the living room does not run unnecessarily at night.

What does a digital timer cost?

The price of digital timers differs depending on what they are to be used for. For your search for the right one for you, you can roughly orientate yourself on the following subdivision:

Type Price range
Digital surface-mounted timers approx. 20 - 800 €
Digital flush-mounted time switches approx. 12 - 460 €
Digital time switches for the socket approx. 12 - 100 €

Can the power supply for an appliance be controlled manually despite a digital time switch?

Yes, with most digital timers, manual power control is possible. For this purpose, many models have an "On/Off" switch that you can press when the timer is connected or plugged in in order to be able to use your appliances (ON) or disconnect them from the mains (OFF) independently of the stored programmes. If you have the need for such an "On/Off" switch, you should look for digital timers with this function before buying.

What is the power consumption of a digital timer?

Assuming your digital timer is plugged in all day and all year, you can expect to use between one and three watts of electricity per day, depending on the technology installed and how many times a day it is used to activate and deactivate devices. The following overview shows you how this power consumption looks calculated for a week, a month and a year:

One day One week (7 days) One month (30 days) One year (365 days)
1 - 3 watts 7 - 21 watts 210 - 630 watts 76,650 - 229,950 watts

If you want to use a particularly energy-saving digital timer, it is worth taking a look at the energy efficiency class. Many manufacturers also give a value for how many watts their timer requires in standby mode over a certain period of time.

Decision: What types of digital timer are there and which is the right one for you?

You can distinguish between digital timers according to their installation type, which results in three types:

  • Digital surface-mounted time switches
  • Digital flush-mounted time switches
  • Digital timers for sockets

Each type has different advantages and disadvantages. We would now like to explain these to you in more detail.

What distinguishes surface-mounted timers and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Surface-mounted timers can be placed "on the plaster", hence their name. After installation, they are clearly visible from the wall. Typical uses for surface-mounted timers are as controls for underfloor heating or for electric roller shutter lifters.

Advantages
  • easy installation without intervention in the wall
  • easy repair and replacement
Disadvantages
  • Visibility outside the wall
  • space in the wall must be available

Surface-mounted time switches are also needed for distribution installation; these are often mounted on a top-hat rail.

What are the characteristics of flush-mounted time switches and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Flush-mounted timers are installed "under the plaster", although you will also see them outside the wall. Unlike surface-mounted timers, however, they only stand out as high as a light switch.

Advantages
  • not very conspicuous
  • manipulation by unauthorised persons difficult or impossible
Disadvantages
  • Installation, repair and replacement complicated
  • space in the wall must be available

What distinguishes socket timers and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Here, too, the name speaks volumes: digital timers for the socket simply have to be plugged in for them to work. You can use them for Christmas lights or an aquarium pump.

Advantages
  • no assembly necessary
  • easy to use
Disadvantages
  • Blocking a socket
  • only appliances with a mains plug can be controlled

Purchase criteria: You can use these factors to compare and evaluate digital timers

In addition to the question of which type of digital timer you need, you should also consider some other criteria. Not only to acquire knowledge about the handling of timers, but if you can precisely narrow down which timers you are looking for, the purchase decision will be even easier. We, the editorial team, consider the following criteria to be important:

We will explain the details of our purchase criteria below.

Functions and features

Digital timers come in many types and variations. However, you can identify some functions and features that are often found. You can use these functions to assess which digital timer is suitable for your project. The most important functions are:

  • Bluetooth: you can find Bluetooth-enabled timers that can be programmed via Bluetooth from an app. Many timers can also be retrofitted with a Bluetooth receiver.
  • Countdown timer: with a countdown function you can determine that a device should work after a certain time (e.g. in ten minutes).
  • Twilight switch: there are timers that can help you regulate the power supply for a device depending on a certain brightness value. This function is also called an astro programme (see Programmes).
  • Dimmer: a digital timer with dimmer allows you to control the brightness of lamps in steps. The prerequisite for this is that the light bulbs and lamps are dimmable.
  • Remote control: there are timers that allow you to control them by remote control.
  • Radio-controlled clock: if you want to be sure that the time on your timer is accurate to the second, make sure it is a radio-controlled clock.
  • Interval: if your timer has interval control, you can close the circuit for certain intervals, for example, to start an aquarium pump every 20 minutes.
  • LCD display: most digital timers have an LCD display that allows you to see the times to be set and can also be illuminated.
  • Network: if you want to connect your timer to a LAN network or via WLAN, you should make sure that it is network-compatible. This is not the case with every digital timer.
  • Programmes: with programmes (or schedules) you can store in your timer up to a year in advance when a device is to be in operation.
  • Timer: You need a timer function to enable the power supply only during a certain period of time. Usually, the term "timer" refers to short periods of a few minutes or hours.
  • Waterproof: the fact that your timer is waterproof is especially important if you want to use it outdoors. However, this is not the only feature required for outdoor use. You can find more detailed information in the section "Buying criteria".
  • Random mode: with this mode - also called random - the function of a device can be enabled at random intervals. You can use this, for example, if you are on holiday and want the light in your home to be on from time to time to protect against burglars.

Suitability for outdoor use

When looking for suitable digital timers, you should be clear about where you want to use the timer. Because it applies:

You should not use digital timers that are only intended for indoor use outdoors, as they usually have no protection against cold and moisture and can cause short circuits and fires if they are exposed to cold and moisture.

It is also advisable to store timers indoors when they are not in use.

Type and number of programmes

You can also distinguish the models of digital timers according to the type of programmes they have. This is especially useful if you already know how precisely you want to plan the running time of your appliances. Here is a list of the most common programmes and brief explanations:

Type of programme Explanation
Daily programme Planning the times of use of a unit for a day
Weekly programme planning the times-of-use of a unit for a week
Monthly programme planning the times-of-use of a unit for one month
Yearly programme planning the times-of-use of a unit for one year
Astro programme planning the times-of-use of a unit by setting a specific brightness value

To give you a feel for how a digital timer is programmed, we have selected an exemplary video for you: The number of programmes should also play a role in your decision. There are timers that allow you to save only one programme for all the devices that you may have connected to it. Other models offer the possibility of switching a separate programme for each device.

Number of channels

By channels in relation to a digital timer, you can understand the outputs or inputs at which the connection can be made for a device that you want to control via the digital timer. The more channels a timer has, the more devices you can control.

As a rule, the number of channels increases the number of programmes you can store in a digital timer - after all, you should be able to programme special times for each device.

Channels are especially important for surface-mounted and flush-mounted timers. Socket timers usually have only one option (a socket) to control a device.

Facts worth knowing about digital timers

Do digital time switches have a power reserve?

Yes, digital time switches also usually have a power reserve, even if this differs in its significance from the power reserve of an analogue time switch...

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If the time switch of your blind lifter, for example, does not work due to a lack of power, it is particularly annoying because it then remains dark in the room. The power reserve can help out in the event of a power failure, at least for a short time.
(unsplash.com / Schuyler Dugle)

The power reserve of digital timers is the time that a digital timer continues to run even after the power supply has been cut off, for example by a power failure.

There are digital time switches that can continue to run for up to six hours after a power failure.

This is made possible by small batteries that are built in for emergencies. This way, stored times are not deleted. These emergency batteries are usually button cells with a limited runtime. You should replace them from time to time to ensure that they will work in the event of a power failure. You should also bear in mind that if you deliberately disconnect your timer from the mains, it may run on its power reserve for some time, draining the battery to some extent. If you want to prevent this, you can easily remove the button cell.

How do I connect a digital timer?

The connection of a digital timer varies depending on the type and model. Digital timers for sockets are simply plugged into the socket to be programmed. For surface-mounted and flush-mounted timers, the steps are similar, so you can identify a rough flow chart. Attention! The connection of surface-mounted and flush-mounted timers should always be carried out by electricians, as they have a high level of expertise and can assess dangers and risks better than laypersons.

  1. Disconnect the power supply: at the beginning of the installation, it is important to disconnect the power supply in the room or area where you want to install a timer. Make sure that the fuses in your fuse box are set to "off".
  2. Box and wiring: if you haven't already done so, you will need to install a surface-mounted or flush-mounted box into which the base (the back part) of your timer can be inserted. Then you have to do the wiring, for which you should refer to the operating instructions for your timer.
  3. Screw on the casing: once you have completed the wiring, you can attach the casing, i.e. the "top part" of your digital timer. This is the part that you will later see from the front.
  4. Programming: If you have successfully completed the previous steps, you can now store the desired programmes in the digital timer. You can find out exactly how this works in the operating instructions for your unit.

How can I change the summer time and winter time of my digital time switch?

The time according to which your digital time switch operates should of course correspond to the applicable summer or winter time, so that you can also control devices the way you want.

To change from summer time to winter time and vice versa, many time switch models have setting options with which you can easily switch between summer time and winter time.

If your digital timer is a radio-controlled clock, you don't have to worry about the time change - the radio-controlled clock will adjust to the current time all by itself and adopt your stored times to the new time!

What are common causes of malfunctioning digital timers?

Sure, it's pretty annoying when your timer doesn't work. However, there are a few things you can check before you have to go down the road of buying a new clock. We have compiled a list of common problems and causes for a malfunctioning digital timer:

  • Power supply interrupted: if the devices controlled by the timer do not work either, this may indicate a lack of power supply. Check whether the wiring has been done correctly. If in doubt, consult an electrician.
  • Incorrect connection: Another reason why your digital timer does not display anything could be that it has been connected incorrectly. Check the operating instructions to make sure you have followed all the steps correctly.
  • Overvoltage after power failure: it is possible that your timer was overvoltage for a short time after the power came back due to a power failure. If this happened, the timer is most likely broken, unfortunately.

Image source: Soongkitboon/ 123rf.com

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