Comes fully equipped out of the box, two commercial portafilter handles, single and double-shot baskets and blind filter for backflusing. Buttons feel solid, not mushy or cheap (the much discussed plastic shell...more on this later). Lots of thoughtful design features, such as the huge drip-tank that's very easily removed without any real potential for accidentally tipping the liquid out; or the water tank can be filled in place or removed smoothly without having to take cups off of the warming grate. The addition of a steam-wand grip is a nice touch often missing on the other "high end" machines. HX setup leads to seemingly endless, powerful steam and, of course, no waiting between brew and steam modes. Also includes auto-refill on boiler levels, a convenience inexplicably often left off of machines costing twice as much.
Negative Product Points
Due to the design of the water tank, there's no apparent facility for adding inlet-filtering, so any water treatment needs to happen externally. The plastic tamper included is usable, but still basically a joke. So far as I know this is the case with any machine that actually includes a "tamper," so it's hard to really take off points for it. The portafilter can be hard to slot in at first; although you slowly get the hang of where to "start," a small external mark of some sort would have been nice. The overhang of the upper box makes steam wand seem a little short; though it is capable of being positioned through 180 degrees and pivots up and down through a large range of motion, there are really only a few "useful" positions.
I'm not quite sure why this machine is so systematically overlooked...even when it's there amongst the stainless peacocks, such as in the recent side-by-side confab in Wisconsin, it garners little mention. To be sure, it's not as showy as the trans-$1000 models with their stainless clad bodies and externally displayed E-61 groups, but isn't "our thing" about the coffee? Ultimately, if a machine can generate great espresso for a reasonable price, what's the problem?
Out of the box: The Oscar comes well packed in a durable box and clamshelled into styrofoam. Mine arrived fine, though the box did not seem to exhibit the normal outward appearance of having been driven over by the delivery truck at some point. It's easy enough to unpack and there's no real trouble to the setup, basically just fill and start. Translated manuals are much maligned for bad English, and this one is no exception, but I think anyone with a reasonable grip on the language should understand what they're trying to say. And there's just not that much to it; with only two buttons and a steam dial, there's not a lot to worry about operating. One frequent online-note is not mentioned at all in the manual: the need to bleed false pressure from the boiler on startup. It's not clear to me that there is much need to do so specifically. A normal approach to any machine will include clearing water from the steam wand before actually steaming, and this step is more than adequate to clear any false pressure; as the boiler only cycles on for perhaps a second in response, needing to do this will neither affect your ability to use an appliance timer, nor is it any different than using any other machine on the market...whether or not they can clear false-pressure automatically, you still need to clear the wand at some point (at least so far as I know). If you leave the machine on 24/7 (which you most certainly can) there will never be any need to do it at all after the initial warmup.
First shots: amazingly good. I'm still dialing in grind etc... for the much sought God shot, but am getting high quality stuff in the interim, easily comparable to the mid-range shots from the local pros. Compared to the various single-boiler machines and steam toys I've used over the years, this thing is a dream to operate. Shots pull nicely (and realtively quietly to my ear) and steaming power is unimaginable when compared to the non-HX machines I've used. It could steam its way through the counter if you let it; and you just can't underestimate the ability to pull steam whenever you want it, it really is worth the price premium to get an HX machine if you plan to use steam at all. Very easy to develop microfoam, in fact the main danger is simply over-steaming. It takes some getting used to, but once you are there, you can't be quite sure how you ever got along before.
The boiler in this machine holds 1.5 liters, the resevoir a little over 2 liters. That's a ton of water relative to many machines at this price point. A major plus is the ability to fill the tank in place or remove it; it pops out easily, and there's no need to clear the top of the machine to get it out. There's no cabinet above my machine, so clearance issues haven't come up, that may be a problem in some kitchens, as the tank is almost as long as the machine itself. The drip tray holds a liter...again fairly impressive that you can run around two thirds of the tank out without ever filling the tray. It slides out very easily and shouldn't be a tipping danger, except, perhaps, if it were nearly completely full. The grate is reversible, allowing for taller containers under the portafilter; I easily fit larger American-style cups under it without removing the spouts. The steaming wand moves easily around, they tend to call it a 360-degree movement, but really only 180 in practice, and then there are relatively few "useful" positions within that area. But so far I find it easy to get a comfortable angle and position, so it must be mobile enough, at least for me. The passive cup-warmer works amazingly well; the cups are quite warm after an hour or two...this is one spot I thought the plastic would prove to be a disappointment.
Other thoughts: The thing most people seem to focus on is the plastic. Indeed, the Oscar is completely encased in some sort of high-impact plastic, but keep in mind that the plastic is easy to clean (and, in fact, seems resistant to the fingerprints and other oily marks which haunt the stainless machines), doesn't seem to scratch easily, doesn't look bad at all, keeps the cost down, and, most importantly, houses what is largely commercial-grade equipment inside. I'd much prefer most of my money go to the guts and less to the outer shell. Oscar is a smooth-looking design; while it won't be confused with the breathtaking beauty of an Elektra, for instance, it is not bad looking at all. And, really, be honest with yourself, from a straight-on aesthetic point of view there is little real difference between Oscar and its closest price/feature-competitor, the Expobar Office. Neither will win a beauty award...but fortunately, that's not really the point. When faced with the choice between these two, the massive availability of Simonelli parts and service carried the day for me. At any rate, the Oscar certainly does not look or feel cheap, nor does it seem out of place in a modern kitchen. Also, don't get the impression that plastic=light. This machine is more than heavy enough to sit firmly as you seat and unseat the portafilter handle or pop out the water tank. It's not going anywhere. Also, although its press doesn't invoke the seemingly magic term "E-61," the group is, in fact, a variant of that design...just Simonelli's own version of the thermosiphon, the so-called "mechanical preinfusion system." Another frequently noted issue is the lack of a hot water tap. First off, with this much steam at your service, it is an easy matter to boil water in seconds with the wand, and the water will be fresh, not some ancient boiler water. The other water tap-related issue is that of cleaning/descaling the boiler. By all accounts, Oscar's boiler drain is easily accesible. I've not owned the machine long enough to dig into that...I'll add thoughts at the three-month followup (see below). But I don't see it as a big deal right now. I do wish Oscar could be fitted with a tank filter, just as an added step since I'm already putting filtered water in. A minor dig, but something to consider.
Overall, I'd recommend the Oscar to anyone looking to buy a top-notch machine, but whose budget didn't include $1000+ just for the brewing portion of the operation. For the price, there are really very few alternatives to this machine. Use the extra money on a good grinder. Perhaps that's the most remarkable thing about the Oscar: that more people don't own one.
I received it as a gift, but the buyer reported a smooth transaction with 1st Line.
Three Month Followup
I'm still very happy with the machine. It has performed flawlessly (we won't discuss its operator...).
The boiler drain is indeed a bit of a pain to get to, but I've hoepfully obviated most of the need for it by carefully controlling the water into the machine...sooner or later it'll have to be drained, but I should be able to delay that day significantly through a bit of extra care.
I'm still astonished by the steaming power of this monster, there's really nothing quite like it in my experience (amongst "home" machines, at least). Microfoam is a snap...the main concern is in overheating smaller volumes of milk. With practice, I've gotten quite good at texturing even small volumes; it just takes experience with your particular setup. Practice with more than you need; milk is pretty cheap, after all. The extra time afforded will really open your eyes to the process.
Quality of my shots has only gotten better (and started off pretty good); a good quality 58mm tamper is a must for achieving real consistency. I now fairly regularly hit that perfect note, with merely very, very good espresso the alternative. Strongly recommended.
One Year Followup
No complaints after a year; I still love the thing more than is probably healthy. No major service issues, did have to remove and descale the pressure relief valve. The folks at 1st Line walked me through it (despite the fact I was sure it would turn out to be a flaky pressurestat instead) and the Oscar has worked flawlessly since (it was overheating frequently leading up to the descaling). With reasonably heavy home use, I've had no parts break, crack, show a scratch, or come loose. Its amazing reliability again speaks to the use of top-notch innards that are admittedly housed in a lower-cost shell. I still think the logic of that arrangement is basically unbeatable in the marketplace, especially at the price point. With the newer model Oscar now sporting a Sirai commercial-grade pressurestat, I see even fewer reasons than existed before to choose another, more expensive machine.