I've never drank more espresso, nor have I been happier with a machine
Positive Product Points
Good looks--lots of color options
Solid, heavy build
Lots of steam
Makes good espresso
Negative Product Points
odd tamper/shower screen
leaks water occasionally from top of basket
cup warmer is kinda useless
probably not worth the full ($600+) price
I got the machine through the Illy deal, so I consider it to be a $200-300 machine with an obligation to buy a bunch of Illy coffee. With that in mind I'm very happy with the machine, though I'm not so sure this would have been the best choice for $600-700.
If you're only going to make espresso with pods, well this isn't a half bad machine for that. It heats up quick enough, it has a handy special pod holder (not merely a single shot portafilter that can hold pods), and the quality is about as good as a pod gets. That being said, beyond using the free pods that came with it, I intend to use fresh ground beans and the commercial quality 56mm chrome plated brass portafilter. This approach also yields good results, but I'm still working out the kinds. Kinks, well for starters the unit has a weird two part tamper which separates and the bottom part is supposed to stay in the portafilter for use as a shower screen (and to make cleanup less watery). Well this just seems odd, and it seems to make it nearly impossible to get a full 14g of grounds in and turn the crank. Reducing things a bit allows it to work, but I really don't see any benefits (it works fine just tamping things down and leaving the bare compacted grounds to fend for themselves). In either case what's left is a solid puck covered in a bit of water. You can let gravity drain things out into a waiting rag or the ample drip tray or just try not to spill too much en route to the trash (or a swanky knock box). I've noticed that the cup on my right (facing the machine) always fills faster, but I suppose it could be me and my tamping. I've also noticed leaks (clear water) from the top of the portafilter after about ten seconds (could I be tamping too hard?). They are minor, and the shots still taste great.
The steam capacity is impressive, and what comes out is rather dry. It really can make some quality froth, and Ive continued to get better results with more and more practice. The water capacity could be better, but to be honest if you use that much water in one sitting, you need a machine designed for that kind of volume, and letting the water sit a day or two doesn't sound too good either, so it seems adequate (even with running a few blank shots to heat the group and the cups--did I mention the cup warmer is useless?).
Yes I would buy it again and recommend it to my friends, though for the full $600 I'd take a hard look at a few other models, including those with 3 way valves and 58mm baskets.
I bought this unit via IllyUSA.com and their offer of $195 for the machine if you agree to buy 48 cans of their espresso. They shipped the unit the day I bought it, and it arrived safe and sound. It's no steal like the Gevalia coffee machines can be (you really are on the hook to buy their coffee), but if you don't mind Illy coffee (you can buy pods, whole beans, fine grind, or medium grind coffee), it can still be a good deal. Illy owns FrancisFrancis, and apparently they have a backlog on the machines and the cups they give away with it. as the machine I got in March 2007 was tested in November 2005, and the "collectible" demitasse set was dated 2005 as well. Since I'm not a cup collector and the machine seems to have been stored adequately, neither is an issue, but be sure to check the expiration date of any coffee included with either the machine or the cups.
In short, I'd do it all again. FYI, to make the most of the deal, get the whole beans or even the fine grind, as the pods are a pricey extravagance that cost more than a shot at a decent coffee shop. Also the offer is for 4 cans a month for 12 months, but you can just buy 48 cans and get it over with (or 6 cans a month for 8 months), and it all should last a year or so in the unopened cans. Snobs may disagree.
Three Month Followup
I'm rather delighted with the machine, and I use it to make roughly 6-8 shots a day. I mostly use fresh ground beans, but I do occasionally use pods. The water leaking from the top of the portafilter was merely a result of not turning it further than straight out. Turning it further seals it better and prevents leaks. I tend to use the provided screen, which does make turning the portafilter difficult with a full 14g of grounds. Really no revelations after three months except to say that it is working well and making great espresso.
I still don't regret getting it from Illy, as the coffee I'm obligated to buy is much fresher than what i see in stores and costs the same amount. Being a hundred miles away from where Illy ships from, I get it quickly and reliably.