The newest office assistant is the technological type. So what can these electronic organisers do to make your life easier? Jessica McCallin reports

Compaq Ipaq £350
John Seaton,
Director of underwriting for commercial business,
Norwich Union

John Seaton bought a top-of-the-range palmtop a year ago to replace his Filofax and to help organise his personal and business life.

"It was expensive, but the model was recommended by experts and consumer guides," he says. "I guess you could say it's a very expensive replacement for a diary, but it's also very convenient and timesaving. Rather than writing in regular meetings, you can just cut and paste information. If a meeting is rescheduled, you just copy your entry to the new date, rather than having to write it out. And you don't have to spend time at the beginning of every year typing in key dates, anniversaries, that sort of thing."

Seaton has put a few important spreadsheets and word documents on it and has downloaded the odd book. His machine can play music and videos, but Seaton admits that he is unlikely to avail himself of its many functions. "One of the things I use most often is the London A-to-Z, which I put on it," he said. "It can do amazing things, but the more you want to do, the more time you have to spend mastering the technology and it can be time-consuming. I only use it for a fraction of what it is capable of. I just don't have the time or inclination to use it for other things. It all depends on the kind of person you are and what is important to you. For some people, technology is a hobby, but I suspect most users will only ever use half of the functions on a palmtop"

Seaton has never had any real problems with the machine. "It's never broken down or anything like that. And if it did, I keep a back up of the information.

"I erased a few things at the beginning when I was getting used to the technology, which was a bit annoying."

A word of advice - Seaton's palmtop is not compatible with his office's IT system so he can't always download everything he wants. If you want to use yours for work, make sure you buy one that is compatible with your company's information technology.

Palm VX £150
Richard Haughton,
Finance director,
Miller Fisher

Richard Haughton bought his first palmtop several years ago and uses it for personal and business purposes. He only really wanted it use it as a diary and to download the odd book, so he bought a simple, black and white machine with very straightforward technology. "It doesn't have all the functions that new palmtops have," he says. "But nor is it a technological dinosaur. It still does everything I want it to do and I don't have any plans to replace it. You don't need a colour-screen or a disk player if you just want to use it for reading and as a diary. It has never let me down and has never broken down, and I wouldn't be without it. I recommend it to anyone."

Haughton did a degree in physics, knows a lot about electronics and even builds his own computers, so the palmtop's technology didn't faze him.

"I guess I'm a bit of a techno-whizz kid, or whatever you call them," he says. "So getting used to the palmtop wasn't a problem. But it is straightforward to use and I don't think anyone would have a problem.'"

Haughton usually puts all his information on a PC which, because of its keyboard size, is easier for input and then downloads it from there to the palmtop.

Psion 5MX £350

Grant Ellis,
Managing director,
The Broker Network

Until two years ago, Grant Ellis thought palmtops were pretentious. "I was ardent, I hated them and was a firm believer in the paper diary, where I could see one month at a time," he says. "But, my paper diary was not synchronised with my secretary's and once I missed a big, important meeting, which cost me a lot of money. After that, I gave in and bought one, and now I wouldn't be without it."

To Ellis, the plus points are that he can carry a complete copy of his diary and all contacts with him at all times. And it's easy to update. His secretary puts all his contacts and appointments on to a PC and then downloads them to the palmtop.

"Before I had it I used a laptop with a one hour battery life and lots of heavy cables and extras to cart around. Now I have a palmtop with a battery life of a month, which is much easier to carry. And I can write word documents on it. The keyboard is a bit small for doing lots of work and I wouldn't spend all day writing on it, but I travel a lot by train and that's when it comes into its own."

It has never broken down, although once Ellis crushed it in his briefcase, cracking the screen, and had to send it off to be repaired. He'd backed up all his data - which is easy, especially if most of it is downloaded from a PC, so it wasn't the end of the world. "But I was lost without it," says Ellis.

"I've grown very attached to it and will be very disappointed when it does eventually give up because they aren't making this model anymore. Psion has decided to leave the palmtop market, so I will need to get used to new technology with a new palmtop."

Ellis didn't find the technology difficult and, once he'd bought it, put aside half a day to familiarise himself with its functions and put all his contacts and information on it.