LUST FACTOR: you better believe I like the way this machine looks. I have the silver (non stainless) model, which matches my DeLonghi retro toaster. I'm a fan of Italian design.
GIRTH: The machine has a heavy-duty build throughout. The metal used in the frame is quite thick, buttons have a heavy feel and the PF is also sturdy. If you're skeptical about the machine being flimsy on account of its looks, don't. Drawbacks: The drip tray doesn't sit flush with the base, which allows, occasionally, spills to enter. But easy to clean that up. The steaming knob is plastic painted silver-it has held up well, but seems like the weak link in the design. I wished they used metal instead.
SUPERHEATEDVAPOURIZEDWATER: Has enough power to steam milk for one big latté, and if you're doing two, the machine will cycle the boiler. Not really a pain; this is to be expected at this price point. I wish the wand was longer and more maneuverable. This machine can create microfoam for latte art. I turn my machine so the resevoir faces me, turn the wand to 10-11 o'clock (in relation to operator) so I can see the air-hole on the backside of the wand. You should be able to observe a stream of milk enter the hole, creating a light whirlpool effect. 10-15 seconds later, you should have enough foam, so immerse the wand deeper, until desired temp is reached. C'est fin.
H-TOO-OH: Open the steam knob, place cup under wand, press brew button, and voila: hot water. A good feature if you need a reason to justify the machine to a tea-drinking significant other.
S-PREZ-OH: Plan to spend at least around $150-200 CDN for a burr grinder - you won't be sorry. I used a blade grinder for way too long. Also factor in a Reg Barber tamper, in 57mm (I used a look-alike for awhile, which I recently gave to a friend). Generally to get good espresso, I run the steam element for 10-15 seconds, then turn it off, and drain the heated water through the machine (2 oz). Now that the machine is hot, take your PF, giver a wipe dry, grind into the PF, tamp to 40 lbs, lock PF. If your beans are fresh (within 10 or so days) you should be seeing some decent crema.
OTHER THOUGHTS: You made it to the end. Congratulations. All in all, this machine is fully capable of high quality drinks, it just might not be as fast as other machines - but those other machines also cost north of $1000. There is quality in this machine where it counts - the brewhead, PF and wand are about as good as it gets. Here's the kicker: I'd also say that this is the best looking machine in its class - and does so without taking up a lot of counter space (it's the FF! compact model).