I found out about the Francis Francis promo through Illy on another site, and I'd never had Illy, but heard it was delicious. Since I'd already checked out the X5 I decided it was a good deal. My machine was shipped and received within 5 days and because I was already up to speed on the basics of an espresso maker, I was making espresso right away and turning out a very good product. I tried the ESE and discovered how marvelously easy it was to use. Wish they made them in 2 shot packets, I never drink one shot! This is a good looking machine and the blue fits in well with my kitchen decor.
The ESE portafilter comes with three filter screens to produce a short, normal or long shot. In addition, FF has included a 2nd portafilter to accommodate a single or double shot of espresso. It's all very heavy and well built, feels good in the hand. It's a 57 mm basket and I found a good aluminum tamper just the right size locally. WIth my preground coffee I've got to tamp with all my weight to get a good shot. Tamping works best if I leave the basket on the counter, rather than put it in the PF first. Using my burr grinder with Peaberry's Milano roast, I can get a finer grind and don't have to work so hard.
Machine itself is all metal, few plastic components. Some feel the clock and steaming knob are cheap, being plastic; I personally don't care. The reservoir for the drip tray and the water reservoir are also plastic, that's about it. The drip tray itself is stainless, very shiny and attractive. I find the clock extremely handy in timing my shots.
The espresso I can make with the X5 is as good as or better than what I can get out. I'm no expert, so don't ask me about water temperatures and so on. I just know that I can flip the switch in the morning, feed the animals, clean the sleep out of my eyes, fill the filter basket (2 nice level scoops using my old Krups scoop, the scoop that came with the FF holds too much coffee!) and I'm ready to go. Francis came up with an odd idea for the portafilter. There's no 3-way valve, so water will continue to drip from your PF. They've included a heavy plastic and metal disk which sits atop the tamped coffee inside the PF. This keeps your puck compact (and your grouphead much cleaner), and if you take the PF out right away for another shot prep, the water is sitting on top of the disk. If it sits awhile, everything is dry, the disk is easily removed and you have a compact puck to knock out and start over. One important note about this disk. If you overfill your filter basket with coffee, the disk will be sitting too high in the PF and you won't be able to lock it into the group head. I've also had leaking around the top of the PF due to overfilling. I fill the basket, tamp, place the disk on and hold it to eye level. If it's not visible above the edge of the PF we're in business. One other note, it has a small screw holding the plastic and metal together and I've taken it apart to clean with no problem.
The water reservoir is in the back of the machine. It slides out easily enough, but this is a heavy machine and requires being lifted or bumped along to get to the back. I've solved this problem by placing the machine on a rectangular cutting board. Moves nicely now. There's a flexible plastic tube that hangs down from the top of the machine into the water reservoir which draws the water in. Just have to be mindful of this tube when removing and replacing the reservoir.
The steaming wand is long enough for my purposes. My gripe is the barrel about an inch long which is screwed onto the wand. It's supposed to help you create froth. I was stymied by it till I read Mark Prince's guide on frothing with the X3. It has a hole halfway up the barrel; I've learned to use this as my placement for the milk level and although I don't always produce the fine, perfect froth, I get it much of the time. Bleed the machine first of hot water (about 1/2 oz.), then your steam comes out. This barrel does screw on and off and you can position the hole in the front where you can see what you're doing.
Cup heater on top - lukewarm, heat them some other way. They look nice sitting there though!
I feel like I've forgotten something, but all in all I like this machine very much. It's really attractive and gets ooo's and aaa's from my friends, the espresso I make has a nice layer of crema on top, and I drink 2-4 shot cappucinos at least twice a day. I didn't used to drink this much coffee.