Stylish, functional, and easy to use - definitely worth the $$ as an entry level machine in the mid-$300 to $400 range - though if you're spending $500+, consider the Silvia.
Positive Product Points
Price Aesthetics - simple yet elegant styling, doesn't try to look like a commercial machine Even temperatures Big reservoir
Negative Product Points
Small dispersion screen No 3 way solenoid, requiring pressure to be slowly released when removing portafilter Drip tray rattles a bit, drip tray enclosure rests on machine - doesn't "lock in"
I recently purchased this machine in part because of the many positive reviews, which I fundamentally agree with. I won't reiterate all the benefits or drawbacks previously noted, other than to say that the prev ious reviews are very solid. All in all, I very much like the machine, and have found that I am able to pull some very nice shots from this little gem. I don't mind the frothing aid, and think steaming works very well. My prior machine was an older thermoblock based Krups Il Novo, which actually did a pretty decent job, but I have clearly jumped to a whole new level with the Ascaso.
My primary challenge to date with the machine is the grouphead dispersion screen. While Ascaso continues to use a 57mm pf, they have apparently changed the grouphead (not just the screen) to be a dual-use machine - both pods and espresso. I believe the Francis Francis X3 is the same setup; basically the machine has a smaller, pod-friendly dispersion screen vs. the two screens they used to ship - small for pods, large for ground coffee. While the ease of a multi-use screen is great, I can't help but wonder if I am losing something with only the small screen when I pull a shot. As I look at the spent puck post-brewing, there are three indentations that can go pretty deep depending on how firmly the coffee was tamped - sometimes they can go pretty deep, which leads me to conclude that the in-pf water circulation isn't as consistent as it would be with a wider dispersion screen. Do I still get great shots? Yes, given my newbie status I am doing pretty well. Will I ever be able to pull a shot the quality of a Silvia? Probably not... but I spent $150 less.
So, all in all I will say that I'm having a great experience with my new machine, and am very happy that I purchased it - especially at this price point. Had I paid the $500+ that many retailers are asking for the more in-demand colors (I got brushed copper, which looks very cool in the kitchen - understated but elegant), I might have wished I went for the Silvia.
Ok to date, though am still waiting for my free goodies that were to come with the machine.