This machine was an easy introduction to beginners espresso-making. At the clearance price I got it for at Starbucks, I couldn't pass it up. I held off using it for quite some time, while I worked out all the variables in my Aeropress, but when I got around to unpacking the machine, it proved quite easy to get up and running. Briefly reviewing the enclosed instructions helps, and mine also included a DVD which further illustrated the high points of preparing the machine and cleaning it. I'm new to the world of upscale espresso, and this machine is pretty much idiot-proof. I only use this machine for espresso, so I have no experience or comments on the machines abilities to froth milk. So, in summary, I'd say positive points are price, ease of use, detailed instructions, and the ability to make a passable espresso for the relatively undemanding palette of the beginner.
Negative Product Points
Reading Coffee Geek and becoming interested in the finer points of espresso making will quickly make you realize that, at a minimum, some mods are necessary to get better espresso from this machine. I haven't yet done any of these, beginning with removing the pressurized part of the portafilter, but once my Baratza Vario arrives, it will be a must. A PID is also on the radar, even though I am aware that the cost of this will exceed what I paid for the machine. Of course, a real tamper is required as well (the one included is just a plastic spoon). As others have noted, there is no water level indicator, so you have to peer at the smoked plastic water bin to see how much water remains, and in the early morning hours, my squinting abilities are, shall we say, diminished. The portafilter is just ok, not as solid as others. So...limited potential without spending more money is the major drawback to this machine, in my opinion.
Not much new here that hasn't been noted in the many reviews of this machine: I appreciate the two different ways to access the water tank, descaling with citric acid proved quite easy, and I've only choked it once, when I gave it a dose of too-fine grinds that came from my Camano hand grinder (maybe this says more about the grinder than the espresso machine). The machine heats up quickly; cleanup is fast and easy as well. I'm interested in doing the mods noted above to see what the ultimate potential of this machine actually is, and at the price I paid for it, I'm going to have to make a serious step up from this one, should I be afflicted with upgradeitis at some point in the future. At full price, however, the machine doesn't seem like a great value; at least, I wouldn't pay that much for it. Note that the instructions say that tamping is unnecessary, but I've found that some tamping, at least, produces better shots even with the PFF. Tamping also prevents the wet puck or slurry effect that others have noted. I imagine that used versions of this machine could be economical for those who are beginning to explore the world of espresso beyond S*bucks (I've seen LOTS of them on craigslist), and I like mine enough after several months of daily use that I'm pretty happy with playing around with variables and mods. Perhaps the arrival of the Vario will change my opinion; we'll see.
Well, it was Starbucks; I called around to several stores in the area before I found one of these at the ridiculously low price I got it at. Haven't had to call upon their service or support yet, so can't comment on that aspect.
Three Month Followup
This machine was sold on craigslist for about what I paid for it. I had a nice experience with this machine, and it was a good stepping stone to a "real" espresso machine. I didn't get to do any of the mods I thought about doing, but I'm sure it would've been fun to try them out.