This is a heavy machine. It weighs around 70 lbs. Since I was too impatient to wait for help hoisting it onto my counter when I got it home, I had to carry (drag) it into my house, un-crate it, assemble and lift it onto my counter all on my own. I highly recommend this as a two-person job. I had that "oh crap, what did I buy" feeling for a few moments when I was assembling the unit and it came time to screw on the cheesy legs. They screw right into the base of the frame and they are adjustable for an uneven surface, but what junk. Basically poorly molded plastic with a rubber base and a threaded stud sticking out of them. I don't know who at Izzo might have thought that it was a good idea to ship a 70 lb shiny behemouth of a coffee machine and include legs that look like they belong on the Barbie kitchen Coffee Maker. Fortunately, once it's on the counter and leveled, you will forget about them fairly quickly as the ugly little spindly things don't draw much attention to themselves.
Remove the cup warmer, pour in some water (first reason to plumb it in), put back the cup warmer and turn on the switch. I bought a little temperature probe that goes into the group-head along with my purchase, so I put that in. This is how I first realized how long it takes for the machine to heat up. Long after the gauges say it's ready to rock and roll, the e61 group temp probe was still reading way low. It's pretty much 30 minutes of clicking on and off before you can brew anything more than bitterness. The clicking is the relay for the heating element cycling on and off and it takes a little getting used to as it's louder than you might think necessary.
While it's warming up, check out the build quality, where's all that weight? In short, everywhere except the legs. Besides the normal chunks of brass, the heavy e61, etc, the sides and in fact all the stainless is BEEFY. The sides are very thick, the drawer for the drain is thick -- even the face plate, cup warmer and the drip tray. The stainless is much thicker than it needs to be to do the job -- simply awesome. It's rare to find something overbuilt in the parts that don't mean anything to the function of the unit. Rap the side hard with your knuckles as if you're knocking on a door. That sharp pain will tell you this thing is heavy duty. I think the parts that go into building Alex are pretty much overbuilt and top-notch.
Now pull out the level and plumb-bob. I guess it's a being a little picky but I noticed that the gauges and the on/off switch plate are not rotated to center in their mounts. The corner of the frame in the front near the steam valve wasn't welded perfectly square either which accounts for a little tweak in the way the back of the drawer meets the front face of the machine. The old Lexus marble test comes to mind, but then again if the Italians built Lexus then we probably would never have had Ferrari.
Step back further than say, six inches and all that nit-picky stuff goes away -- admire the overall look of the machine. If you like it in the pictures, you'll like it even more in person. It's shinier, flashier and looks better on my counter than in any of the pictures (and I looked at a lot of pictures).
Once it's hot (and it gets really hot, so be careful), one can try it out for its intended purpose. The fit of the portafilters is flawless. There are really only three controls to speak of, the water & steam valves and brew control. Operating any of them is really akin to driving the Ferrari, sort of long throw, yet positively engaged/off. The valves are smoother than silk and don't require any more than a pleasant amount of torque to turn on or off (one finger can easily do it). The brew control lever is smooth and well fit with the micro-switch. You could have the finesse of a ballerina or be Sasquatch himself and be able to operate the controls without breaking the machine or so much as consequentially moving it side to side. This is a really good thing as I have noticed (1) that the machine encourages everyone who comes over to try it out regardless of their affiliation with espresso drinks and (2) most visitors to my house tend to be less like the ballerina variety.
As far as espresso making goes, I've owned a number of consumer machines all of which served their purposes, but in retrospect were essentially a joke in terms making good espresso, but I liked them when I owned them and I'm glad I did. My experience with pro-sumer and up level machines comes from spending time in Portugal with a friend who had a cafe attached to their home (spent as much time with that 4 group Faema as I did anywhere else) along with a friend stateside with a Livia 90. I proudly state that given all the elements required for a great espresso, Alex will easily provide me with all the technical requirements to make the greatest espresso my skill allow now and long into the future. Honestly, though, I doubt that any machine in the class would fail to deliver in this specific area. In terms of espresso production, Alex is a tool which will to some extent, satisfy everyone from the serious amateur to the skilled master. It delivers bad espresso sometimes, but if I blamed my impeccably maintained Sorby chisel for each bad dovetail, I'd be looking on the wrong side of the hammer.
I love Americanos, and I use a fair bit of hot water in making these. I wish the hot water wand had a few more degrees of swing to it but I can live with it. An Americano for me means putting some hot water in the cup to heat it up, two double-shots and top up with hot water. Even if I use the cooling flush to heat the cup (which is a pain because the clearance from the bottom of the portafilter to the drip tray is scant), I would still have to wait a few minutes (maybe five) before starting on another drink. This hasn't been a problem because I don't know anyone who drinks Americanos. My friends seem to be all espresso or cappuccino types. So far, Alex can keep up with my fastest espresso/cappuccino pace (which isn't fast). I do have to save my Americano for the end, though. I could increase the boiler pressure (I keep my boiler set at 1 bar) and possibly solve this if I needed to, but as the machine is on 24/7, I think the energy savings is more important. I think you could probably make as many espressos and capuccino as you want in a row and Alex would keep up, but as soon as you start stealing water from the boiler, you'll beat it every time.
Let's say a few friends come over (three). By the time the coffee drinking session is over, my experience is that the reservoir has to be filled once for each of them(second reason to plumb in). I don't know where all that water is going, but that's a lot of filling and it's not that easy because the cup tray has to come off (and inevitably stay off, making it look ugly) and the smallish hole in the reservoir means you can neither drink too much coffee nor too much booze unless you want water all over the inside of Alex(third reason to plumb in). Thank goodness you can plumb it in. Alex comes with the hose from the machine to 3/8" copper, so you don't have to buy some 'additional charge plumb in kit'. I bought this machine specifically because it's plumb in or pour-over. I didn't have it a week before I plumbed it in. On a side note, if you are going to put Alex under a cabinet, you pretty much need to plumb it in because it's kinda heavy to slide around and pretty much impossible to fill in place without some sort of funnel/hose rig (oops, scratch that, you'll need 16 1/2" of clearance to put it under a cabinet at all, so it might not be possible). By the way, it's not that big a deal to plumb the supply line in to one of these. A lot of folks seem to spending big money on these machines and balking about plumbing them in. It's easy to do (or have a plumber do) and if planned right is completely reversible.
I said I didn't know where all the water goes, but it ends up in the drip tray. The drip tray holds around 60 ounces of wastewater, but don't let it get that full before dumping because the same guy at Izzo who engineered the plastic legs put a bolt through the bottom of the drip tray (to block the hole for plumbed in drain option) which necessitates tipping the tray towards the machine in order to slide it out. So in practice it probably holds 48 spill resistant ounces.
I love this thing and don't regret buying, not for a second. There are certainly some negatives to Alex, but if there were one perfect machine for everyone, we wouldn't need to make choices. I certainly don't think any of the negatives I have found so far would justify a different buying decision. I thought very carefully about the Brewtus, the Andreja Premium & Vetrano. I wouldn't have gone wrong with any of them and I know I made the right choice for me.