The Francis! Francis! X3, head to head with a Silvia? At first, it may not seem entirely fair...
But then again, putting the machine up against a thoroughbred like the La Marzocco Linea seemed as it it would be shooting fish in a barrel. And while using bad coffee was a great equalizer, the Francis! Francis! X3 more than held its own... it actually beat the Linea, if by a hair.
So does this mean that the X3 can easily beat a Rancilio Silvia, or a Gaggia Coffee? Actually, no. Remember, it was more the user skill that let the X3 beat a La Marzocco, not the machine. If Dismas Smith used both the X3 and the Rancilio Silvia, chances are he'd bang out better shots with the Silvia, or at the very least, shots on par between both machines.
I will talk about how the Francis! Francis! X3 machine compares against three other machines - the Innova Arc, the Rancilio Silvia, and the Solis SL-70. I didn't have Dismas Smith just hanging around the entire time I evaluated this machine against the competition, so unfortunately for you, my dear reader, you're stuck with my mediocre skill level and shot output. But hey, all things being equal... right?
First off, in the looks department. Well, hands down, the X3 wins... it's small, but the curves seem sculpted, not press formed. The Silvia seems like a box, the X3 definitely has a panache of curves and art deco styling. The Innova Arc, a latecomer to this testing, actually looks pretty fine, and the Solis SL-70… well, it's an acquired taste, but at least the silver and black models look way better than the white and green version.
| The panel on the back of the X3 reveals some interesting info. |
In terms of usability, the X3 is surprisingly usable, but not nearly as much as the Silvia or the Solis. I'd also have to give the Innova Arc a nod over the X3 in terms of usability, simply because the Innova's switches are easier to use and see, and the steam wand, albeit a very similar design, is longer. Both the Innova and Solis have very easy-to-use and see water reservoirs, and filling the Silvia's enclosed reservoir is still easier to do than the X3. So out of the four machines, the X3 comes last in terms of usability.
In terms of what's under the hood? Well, it seems to my eyes that the X3 and the Innova Arc are almost identical inside. I haven't had much time to check out the Arc, but I have had the lid off, and it is very close. Where the Arc beats the X3 is in the "beefiness" of the portafilter and grouphead. The Arc has a full size dispersion screen as compared to the X3's half-screen, and the portafilter is thicker and retains more heat.
Both the Arc and the X3 have 57mm filter baskets, which hold about 14 to 15 grams of coffee if you grind for ristretto and you pack them tight. The Silvia has an industry-standard 58mm portafilter and a decent-sized double filter basket (you can also La Marzocco double baskets); this size gives the Silvia a definite edge in the grouphead and PF arena. The Solis SL-70 comes last with the rinky dink 53mm portafilter, and the crema enhancing baskets (for the purpose of this testing, I used only "stock parts" with all machines)
The Silvia and Solis both win though for a larger boiler design (the two machines are within 10 to 20 mls of each other), as well as some more "industrial grade" tubing and parts inside. And both of these machines have traditional (no froth aiding) wands, giving them yet another boost in desirable parts.
So for under the hood, I'd have to give the nod to the Silvia, then the SL-70 (though the PF design knocks it down substantially), then the Arc wins by virtue of having a longer steam wand and a beefier portafilter and grouphead. The poor X3 finishes last in this regard.
What the Test Group Says
So you've heard my words. Now hear the words of my small test group. I actually solicited a lot of diverse opinions on the machines, but not everyone tried every machine. What I'll do is present some comments about the Francis! Francis! X3 from a wide variety of people, and then the comments from my test group of four individuals - David W., a CoffeeGeek and fellow Richmond-dweller; Spencer A., a visitor from Seattle who was in Vancouver for two weeks recently; Sylvain, a local Barista in Vancouver; and Jeanette, a Vancouver music teacher.
The following quotes and comments were transcribed from recordings I made during open testing sessions. In the future, I may publish the raw recordings, but I won't do so until a) I get permission from the participants, and b) we temper our unfiltered language somewhat :)
Francis! Francis! X3 comments
- I do have to say, the machine looks great. At first, I thought it was kind of plasticky with a metal body, but I like the solid feel of the switches, and the steam knob. Hey, I liked that more than I thought I would.
- Filling this thing's a bitch, ain't it.
- I would throw away the pod filter holder, except it looks pretty cool.
- I'm surprised how well this brews a shot.
- I can not get any real microfoam out of this machine.
- I agree with David and Sylvain - this machine looks very good. I wouldn't mind giving this away as a wedding gift or even having it in my condo.
- I was able to get okay microfoam out of it, but you really have to trick* the boiler
- The machine brews a very good shot of espresso. The streams were thick, rich, and evidenced real tiger striping
*Tricking the boiler means getting the boiler to stay active while steaming
- This is one of the best looking small machines out there. These guys sure know style.
- I saw the shot that Spencer made, and was very impressed visually. In taste, it was a bit weak. It was usable. Better than most cafes around town for sure.
- I didn't like anything about the frothing action. Where to start. Wand's too short. That froth aider makes me sick. Too much playing around to get good foaming action.
- Yes, throw away the pod filter handle.
- This is a beautiful machine, but it is a pain to keep clean. It surprised me about how heavy it is!
- After getting used to the La Marzocco, I didn't like steaming on this one.
- I can make beautiful shots with this, but the grinder has to be, what is the word, dialed in pretty good to do it.
Other Machine Commentary
Sylvain says: "This is the first time I've seen this machine. I know everyone talks about it, and I understand why... It is smaller than I thought... Beautiful looking shots... Seems you have to play with the shot timing, this shot is too sour (note, the Silvia was having a bad time on test day keeping a good brewing temperature)... This thing steams like a demon!"
David says: "My friend owns one and I get to play with his. You have to really play with your brewing temperatures, but it's easy to do... This isn't a machine for amateurs... Froth quality is excellent."
Spencer says: "Love it!... The famous Silvia!... You can get more coffee in this machine than any of the others... (my) shot is excellent. I'd call this a perfect ristretto... The machine's boxy, but that is okay - it looks serious."
Jeanette says: "I owned this machine for a couple of years, it's all coming back to me... this machine feels sort of comfortable, but intimidating at the same time."
Sylvain says: "Seems like a toy... The portafilter is too small. The filter baskets: wait, what is going on there? (Sylvain discovered the crema-enhancer baskets at this point)... Shot is weak and watery... Steam power is great! Almost as good as the Silvia... I like how the boiler turns on whenever I steam."
David says: "(Sylvain's) right - the portafilter and pressure baskets suck... I can't get a good shot out of this machine... Hot water thing is good... I think the machine looks great."
Spencer says: "I don't mind the smaller portafilter, you just need to brew less espresso. I agree (with the others), the crema enhancer has to go... Shot seemed weak... Temperature seems right... Steaming is great on this machine... the steam wand looks deceiving (talking about how the machine's wand doesn't look like a traditional steam wand when in fact it is)."
Jeanette says: "This is the quietest machine, and I like that factor... The shots seem worse than the others... I like this machine and have bought it for a few wedding gifts already."
I should note that if you change the enclosed crema enhancer filter baskets for aftermarket normal baskets, the shot quality of this machine goes up substantially. For more on this machine and the aftermarket baskets, check out our detailed review on the Solis SL-70.
(nb: This was the first time I used this late-arriving machine)
Sylvain says: "Looks almost as good as the (X3)... I like the thicker portafilter... seems to work just like the X3... water reservoir is better design, I like that... I don't like this froth wand."
David says: "'You know, now that I think about it, I like the look of the Arc more than the X3... I agree (with Sylvain and Spencer), it works just like the X3... That shot (the one he just pulled) was great! Better than my Silvia attempt."
Spencer says: "Seems very similar in performance to the X3... I like the bigger wand. Companies need to get rid of these froth aiding gizmos... Hot water delivery is good... The machine looks great."
Jeanette says: "I really like how this machine looks. It looks like an espresso machine (earlier on she said the X3 doesn't look like an espresso machine), but it looks hip!... The drip tray design seems flimsy... I like how easy it is to fill that big water (reservoir)... I like the wand and steam knob design for beginners."