The Solis Master 5000 Digital is a nice machine, and changed my mind slightly when it comes to super automatics, and the stigma that super autos have with espresso snobs.
For a "ultra convenience device", I don't think you give up nearly as much quality in the shot as you do with some of the other super autos on the market (some horrible shots from Capresso units come to mind). I believe the optimal water temperature control and the detailed grind coarseness and volume adjustment controls cause this increase in shot quality and taste. This is a huge perk, and as far as I know, the grind volume level controls is not available on any Super Auto machine under a grand (note, this may have changed since February 2000).
The steam wand was a big letdown, but the mild surprise I had in the quality of the froth from the froth aiding device dampened this letdown a bit. I wanted to rate this machine as a 9 out of 10 in its class (shot quality was good, but could be better, I think), but the machine lost another point because f the poor wand design and nonexistent frothing ability, sans froth aider.
Using the machine from the perspective of a small office owner or worker, or an espresso fan who isn't too fanatical about their shots, the Master 5K Digital produces very acceptable results, and consistently acceptable results. Clean up is not an issue or concern for the most part, though water fill ups can be in medium or high use - though the fact that it can be plumbed is a perk. It holds over 3/4 of a pound of roast coffee, enough for a week of use by one or two people, and enough for a few days in high volume situations.
Owners of high quality semi-auto or automatic machines who have really honed their skills will be disappointed in the shot quality, but this machine does not target the true tyros and aficionados. For instance, this machine will never replace a beloved Rancilio Silvia or Pasquini Livia in the home of someone who takes espresso ultra-seriously, but since these two machines target different markets, this isn't a concern or something that is really considered by the manufacturer. The bottom line for them is that the machine produces good, consistent shots, and is highly customizable. Compared to other automatic technologies on the marketplace, including pods, I feel they have achieved these goals.
Who should buy this machine
If you have a small office or home office with more than one coffee or espresso drinker, a machine like the Master Digital is ideally suited to you. If you just want good espresso with zero fuss (well, at least until you get your credit card statement) this is the machine for you as well. If you want a machine that you can tell your kids to brew you a shot with, this is definitely the machine for you.
Operation of the machine over this initial period was completely flawless - no surprises other than pleasant ones, no mess, no fuss, just espresso in the cup. The only mess I generated was when I frothed, but this is minimal.
At the $899 retail price, I find this machine expensive, but it does include features that many Super Autos on the market do not include (ed.note: as of February 2000; also note this product has dropped $140 in price since its introduction).
For this price, you are getting a premium Super Auto machine that is versatile, adjustable, and very programmable. The lack of a clock and timer is a disappointment, but then again, espresso should be consumed within seconds of being brewed, and the lack of this clock feature might be a hidden bonus to some. The bottom line on the price is the cheap bastard in me finds it expensive, but the convenience factor, programmability, self cleaning ability and small office suitability will make it a bargain for many espresso fans.