Good beginner machine... You shouldn't pay over $200 for it... Decent machine to hone your skills with...
Positive Product Points
A decent beginner machine to train yourself how to make real espresso, (AFTER you modify the portafilter). Once you can make a good shot of espresso with this machine, you can make a great shot with a higher priced higher quality intermediate/professional machine.
Negative Product Points
Small boiler, Pressurized portafilter (can be modified), non-E61 group head.
This is not a great espresso machine by any stretch of the imagination. And the NEW price tag is inflated considering what you get. But it could be a good deal if you're just starting out with trying to make real espresso, and you pick one up on the cheap from someplace like eBay for under $200.
First things first... You'll never make any approximating a real espresso shot with this machine until you take the following steps:
#1 - Take apart the phoney baloney pressurized portafilter. Remove the guts until all you have left is the metal portafilter, the internal basket retaining wire, and the basket.
#2 - Buy yourself a 52mm or 53mm tamper that will fit the basket.
#3 - Buy some decent quality whole beans, but don't go overboard on price with micro roasted coffees, (as a beginner you can't go wrong with anything Lavazza makes).
#4 - The MOST IMPORTANT part of ANY attempt to make good espresso is the grinder, IMHO, even moreso than the type of machine you buy. So buy the best quality bur grinder you can. (A Rancilio Rocky can't be beat).
I won't go through the details of how to make a perfect shot here, (tutorials can be found in lots of places including CoffeeGeek). But once you've perfected your grind, your tamping pressure, your basket fill level, your temperature surfing, and your cup warming, to the point of pulling a good tasting 25 second shot (this will take a while and lots of experimentation). Then you can move on to steaming your milk for espresso based drinks like Latte's and Caps.
This machine is finicky and will require you to do everything just right as the barista to pull anything close to a good shot. But once you've perfected your skills and saved a little money, you can move up to something even better like the Rancillio Silvia, which is a good match for the grinder.
This was bought for me... Had I done a little research on my own, I probably never would have bought this particular machine. The Gaggia Baby is in the same price range and is a much better machine.