Commercial size 58mm PF, great functional design for the money. Unbeatable as far as machines in the $200 or less price range go.
Positive Product Points
bang-for-buck, heavy boiler and grouphead (boiler not copper though), 58mm portafilter (commercial-sized), ease of finding proper accessories and replacement parts, solid performance, very quick to heat up after turning on
Negative Product Points
small boiler makes for temp instability, boiler is aluminum, plastic froth-aid sleeve is not for those wanting to make real microfoam, plastic construction, water reservoir is sort of a pain to remove, no 3-way solenoid
All of the ~$200 Gaggia machines are great performers for the price. They feature commercial sized groupheads/portafilters and the Espresso model is no exception. I usually recommend this model over some of the others because it has a larger 64oz water reservoir and a larger drip tray than some of the other models and it's pretty straightforward to use.
Boiler/Shots - The Gaggias all have a miniscule 3.5oz boiler. This comes with both good and bad. The good is that it heats up super fast (also thanks to the two heating elements mounted on the outside of the boiler) so you only have to wait 10 minutes or less after turning the machine on to pull a shot. The bad is that as the water exits that little boiler temps can drop pretty fast. The good news is that despite that little boiler this machine can pull some pretty darn good shots when paired with a good grinder (a good grinder is absolutely essential to good espresso preparation and it is more important than whatever machine you get). There are some tricks to maximizing your experience with this machine and I'll hit those later in this review.
STEAMING - The steaming power of the Gaggias, while not ideal, is not bad and you can get good microfoam with this machine. It takes some tricks though which, again, I'll cover later in this review. Go ahead and remove the entire plastic frothing part of the steam wand though and get yourself a 12oz steaming pitcher (as opposed to the 20 oz pitchers typically used).
RESERVOIR - The water reservoir is kind of a pain to take out because you have to remove the drip tray and then move it past the steam wand. The only time I ever take it out is when I need to put the descaling solution in it to descale the machine. Otherwise you can remove a lid on top and pour your brewing water through a hole in the top that leads to the reservoir.
DRIP TRAY - The drip tray is bigger than some of the other Gaggia models like the Carezza but sometimes I wish it were a little bigger. The cup tray on top is just that - a cup tray. NOT a cup warmer because it won't warm your cups worth a darn.
Espresso vs. Carezza - People often ask if one is preferential over the other. I would recommend the Espresso over the Carezza (or the Evolution). The Espresso has a water reservoir that is 20 oz larger than either the Carezza or the Evolution at 64oz total. Also, the Espresso has a bigger drip tray than the Carezza (not sure about the Evolution but it's probably bigger). I think it would be a pain having a drip tray that is any samller than the Espresso. These two functional aspects make the Espresso my top choice of the budget Gaggias. Also, the Gaggia has a little tray on top that, while worthless for heating, is handy for story espresso cups and/or shot glasses. The Carezza may look better to many but the thrill of good looks wears off quickly while the day-to-day functionality of a machine is what you will really come to value.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR GAGGIAS: All Gaggia machines require some little tricks to get the most out of them. You need to experiment with a thermometer to see what gets you the right temperature when you pull your shot. To measure the brew temps cut off the bottom of a styrofoam cup so that it fits right over the showerscreen. Then poke a hole in the bottom and stick your thermometer probe in the hole. Hold the cup over the brew head and pull the shot, noting the temperatures.
Once you figure out what your temperatures are at various points after brewing or flushing then you can do things to compensate for it being low or high. High temps can be brought down by flushing and then waiting a certain amount of time once the light goes out. Low temps can be brought up by turning on the steam switch for a given number of seconds, turning it off and then waiting for an additional period of time after that. The only way to figure out these temps is trial and error with a thermometer. My typical procedure is to flush water until the light goes off. Then it comes back on and I turn on the steam switch for 8 seconds and then turn it off. Then I pull the shot 20 seconds after that. It sounds complicated but it becomes habit.
Steaming - Once you've gotten rid of the plastic froth sleeve and acquired a 12 oz steaming pitcher then steam as you normally would on any machine. Search the forums for steaming tips or see the "How to" here at CG. Since the boiler is so small though you want to make sure you don't run out of steam. The way to do that is to turn on the steam switch and start steaming before the light comes on but after there is enough heat to create steam. For me that is 30 to 35 seconds after I hit the steam switch. If you start steaming before the light comes on you will ensure that the heating elements stay on throughout your steaming session which helps keep the steam pressure and volume going for a longer period of time. Otherwise you'd run out of steam before the elements kicked back on.
I hope this review(/tutorial!) has been helpful for you. The Gaggia Espresso is a great machine for the money and one of the very few competent choices of machine to buy new in the $200 or less price range. Just make sure you have a good grinder to go with it (as you would want to do no matter WHAT machine you have!).
Irrelevant since I bought it used from an individual. Look around for used ones...I got an incredible deal on mine.