Personal organisers Can electronic notebooks really help you sort out your life? Martin Skegg and Michael Oliveira-Salac put six hectic schedules to the test. Photographs by Phil Ward
Personal organisers come in all shapes and sizes, from basic address books to mini-computers. They claim to be as useful as the all-conquering Filofax, as well as offering lots more features. But how practical are they for sorting the chaos of your everyday life? We asked six people, ranging from the experienced user to the complete novice, to try out six different electronic organisers for a week ...

Phenom Express H220 Handheld PC, pounds 599, information 0870 607 5544. Tested by script editor Gina Anderson, 34, who is more used to a Smythson diary and Gucci notebook. " It's easy to use - I was messing about on it without using the manual. The calendar is better than a paper diary, and I love being able to fax and e-mail directly from it. The only problem is that it isn't Mac-compatible. I would need to get a PC so I could use it in tandem and move files around."

HP Jornada 420, pounds 400, stockists on 0990 474747. Harriet Green, 29, is a busy freelance journalist who currently keeps track of her life with a Palm 3. What did she think of this rival? "Overall, I found it a good idea but too big and too complicated. It feels a bit like a kid's toy, I wouldn't feel happy getting this out at a meeting. The screen layout is too complicated and messy, it gives me a headache. Unlike the Palm, it is very good at hand-writing recognition and the colour screen is very clear. However, I don't think it's worth the money."

Canon ZX10 Personal Digital Assistant pounds 150, information on 0500 246 246. As executive chef at the London Hilton on Park Lane, Anthony Marshall, 41, heads a team of chefs who prepare 750,000 meals a year. Would this organiser make his life any easier? "It is very user-friendly. It is good for contact numbers, but you would probably need to spend a day entering all the information. It has world times, which is useful as we have hotels worldwide. I like the alarm function that warns of appointments. The screen could be easier to read - you have to hold it at an angle. It has lots of functions and a pretty big instruction book. I guess once you've mastered it it's easy enough."

Sharp ZQ 570 Organiser, pounds 59.99, information on 0800 262 958. Jane Woods, 59, is a part-time director of Woods River Cruises. She temporarily abandoned the diary and four different books she usually uses for her social and business life. "I found the organiser remarkably easy to use. I entered about 60 names and addresses, using both hands on the keyboard. The screen is clear, though the lettering is rather inelegant. I feel confident that I could connect up to the office computer and exchange information. If I could keep it I would use the scheduler and calendar."

Psion Series 5, pounds 370, information on 0990 143050. Rebecca Earley, 29, is a textile designer who currently keeps organised with a desk Filofax and a projects notebook which also has space for cuttings. "Within 20 minutes with the Psion I had it up and running. I successfully found the games, doodled with the spreadsheet and graph and entered details in the address book. I found the keyboard easy to type on, I was happily using it on the train. I set the alarms, and it was a bit like a little buddy I took everywhere. But then I found myself grabbing a notebook for sketches and notes, needing to scribble and flick through projects. The Psion isn't instant enough, it makes writing too much of an issue."

Philips Nino 300 Palm PC, pounds 350, information on 0171-744 0095. Errol O'Neil, 31, is a contract surveyor who relies on the traditional Filofax and a PC at work. He took the new organiser out on site with him. "It can't replace my Filofax yet. I don't like having to keep going in and out of applications. It might be a question of getting used to it, or working differently. I wouldn't use the handwriting feature, and the sketch pad would be useful but there is no rub-out tool, making it tricky to use. It's a practical size to take out on site. I just don't think it is user-friendly enough. I expect to have one like it eventually, and it will probably then become indispensable."