I was a total newbie to brewing any kind of coffee at home, but after we moved from CA where there's a Starbuck's, or similar, on every corner to Kentucky where, well, there isn't, I was missing having a well-made coffee treat a couple times a week. Now that I have this machine, I find myself making lattes twice a day that taste as good as from a coffee house to me; apparently it's too addicting to have that power at home! I use it with syrups to make flavored lattes and cappucinos. I don't use it for straight espressos, etc., so cannot vouch for the flavor quality of those types of drinks for all you out there who like to drink your coffee dark.
I did my research right here before I bought it, and for the price I was going to pay, it seemed to be a great starter machine, and it has turned out to be. My luck is that when I first tried it out, all I had in the house was nonfat milk and whipping cream. The nonfat wasn't tasty enough, so I added a smidge of cream to it before frothing, and following the machine's instructions to swirl the pitcher around the wand, I was able to create the smooth microfoam that's apparently the desirable thing. However, whenever I tried this with any level of straight-from-the-carton milk (1%, 2%, whole), I would always end up with just this collapsable froth (bigger bubbles) and this was very frustrating to me! I recently discovered the trick is to just hold the thing still (easier, too) under the wand and it microfoams right up! So if you buy this, don't bother with the circular swirling, just plunge it in and let it do its work!
I haven't had trouble with the brew quality. The only times I thought it was watery were when I would try to squeeze too much out of just a one-scoop filter's worth. I've since stopped being so cheap, and no more watery! I also make sure to tamp it nice and tight. I've had one type of medium blend coffee that I didn't like the flavor of, but that was all the coffee, so I'm only using bold or extra bold blends now. I don't own a grinder (shock! horror!), but I pop open some whole bean coffee at the grocery store and grind it there with their commercial grinder set for espresso, and this seems to work fine. With my husband and I both drinking it, we use it up quickly enough that we don't seem to notice any decline in the flavor. I do as instructed and run some water through it to make sure it's at the optimal temp before inserting the coffee and filter, and I always get a nice crema, so long as I'm not trying to make too much coffee out of not enough grinds, as before when I said it got watery.
The machine is lovely to look at, too. It is heavy and feels well made; the controls and parts are simple and seem to be sturdy. I make sure to blow steam through the wand and wipe it all down after every use, and this is quick and easy enough to keep it running smoothly. I haven't seen any need to decalcify it yet--our water is pretty clean, doesn't generally leave spots all over everything anyway, so probably isn't depositing much in the machine yet. I've not noticed any decline in the performance, but will probably clean it soon anyway, as recommended.
I've also foamed milk for hot cocoas for my kids and it makes them frothy and fun, although usually the milk gets too frothy and I have to stop foaming it before it's really hot enough for the drink, so I'll end up popping it in the microwave for another 30 seconds after I've mixed it in the cup.
I can also relate to other reviewers who say the wand is a bit awkward, but I just tilt the pitcher carefully, and throw a towel under it to catch drips while I finish building my coffee, so I haven't had any trouble. I have to clean up my inevitable mess anyway, so the rag is just part of the routine. With the dual drip system, I can squeeze two regular coffee cups under the nozzle and get identical quality, and enough of it usually for both my husband and myself. I don't ever really use the included stainless steel shots, just stick my mug under it so there will be plenty of room for the milk afterwards without having to transfer it over. I wish I could put something taller under it, like a travel/insulated thermos style cup, and take it with me places without having to brew it then transfer it into such a cup, but I don't do that often, so it's no big deal. I think most machines function at about the same height under the nozzle, so one that fit taller cups would be exceptional.