Twin the Francis with a Rancilio Rocky and you won't be disappointed - escape pod constraints!
Positive Product Points
Solidly built with a good standard of finish. Looks gorgeous, but also works well, provided you experiment with grinds etc and invest in a decent grinder. Fast heat-up (approx 4 minutes), but delivers best results when it has thoroughly warmed up - 15 minutes. Steamer wand works well and produces excellent foam.
Negative Product Points
Polished stainless steel looks superb, but catches any stray water marks, which takes some rubbing to clean off! Steamer wand a bit awkward for large milk jugs. Removing the water tank to fill is fiddly - would be better if it could be filled in situ (as e.g. Gaggia machines).
My venerable Gaggia Tebe finally expired after about 6 years of consistent service. Wanted a change, and the Francis X1 was an attractive option. Whilst pods produced consistent crema, I like to use beans from my favourite suppliers in London (e.g. Drury in Covent Garden & Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho). Initially the results from the X1 were disappointing - little crema, although flavours good and bitterness absent. Decided my old Dualit grinder was worn out (I had been using it for about 5 years) and bought a Rancilio Rocky - this made an amazing difference - grind numbers between 9 and 7 produce fabulous and consistent shots - full crema and excellent flavour and aroma. I had thought some of the stuff about grinders was hype, but it really does make a significant difference.
So, invest in a decent grinder - I haven't tried some of the others reviewed on the site, but the Rancilio seemed to get the most consistent accolades, and doesn't take up loads of counter space. I like its somewhat artisan finish - like the steel has been crimped and folded with pliers! But the guts of the thing are the business.
As others have recommended, keeping the filter hot and letting the X1 warm up for perhaps 15 minutes before pulling a shot gets the best results, although its quite acceptable after 4 minutes (usually the only time I have in the mornings).
The tamper gadget and filter screen which is supplied seems to make no difference at all - I don't use it now. I've found best results come when the filter is filled to the brim, and well tamped - this achieves a 25 to 27 second pour, with great crema and flavour.
Lastly, the X1 is a pretty object, and a nice change from the industrial square boxes!
Getting hold of the Francis Francis X1 in the UK is difficult - a few trendy shops stock them, but don't have a full range and also don't know much about the machines - I was offered a scratched display model at full price which I declined. However, GoCoffee internet store (UK) have the full range and were able to supply next day, together with complimentary coffee, and at a substantial saving on the list price. They also seemed to know what they were talking about. Would recommend them.