This was my first 'real' espresso machine after several years with the Krups thermoblock machine. A dramatic improvement in every way. First of all, once you dial in the grind and learn to use this machine, the espresso is very good; easily surpassing most restaurant drinks and exceeded only by what you get at the bona fide artisan barista cafes. I use the matching Lelit PL51 conical burr grinder and fresh beans from a local roaster down the street and get consistently good 25 second pulls with plenty of thick crema and sweetness. The steam is reasonably powerful, once you learn the timing to keep the light on throughout. The warm-up time is very fast, and the machine can move from a completed extraction to steaming temperature in around 15 seconds flat. By the time you've trashed the puck and grabbed your pitcher, its about ready to purge and steam. Just don't plan on steaming more than one drink's worth of milk at at time. And remember to refill the boiler. I've forgotten to do this on occasion, and the machine has been forgiving with no loss of performance, but I've probably shortened the life of the element. The good news is that replacement elements are cheap. The machine and the Lelit grinder both are small, all polished metal, and don't take up much counter space, which was a big buying point for me. Its a nice looking machine, but will never be confused with a big chrome work of art, so nobody is going to bow down and worship this thing when they walk into your kitchen. Inside the machine, you see lots of simple brass fittings, valves, and a fairly clean lay-out. Really, there is not a lot of complexity to this machine--it is very simple. Backflushing and descaling are easy. The switches are good quality. The steam knob is a bit small. The only non-routine maintenance so far has been that the steam wand fitting worked loose and required re-tightening.
There are some things that might be negatives to some or simply 'quirkiness' depending on your perspective. There is a certain metal-shop quality to the build with both the machine and the matching grinder. The edges are rough. The machine requires that you learn its ways, and will not just make espresso for you with the flip of a switch. You must master grind, tamp, timing, routine, technique, etc. to get the most out of it. And, there are no gauges or anything to cue you about your operating pressure or temperature. You are flying seat of the your pants here. To me, these really aren't huge negatives, but judge for yourself. Once you get it down, the pulls are absolutely consistent. The biggest definite negative is the little steaming wand. It is just barely long enough, has limited usable swivel, and swivels only along a single axis. I don't know about the frother--I tossed it immediately. And the wand drips water fairly regularly. But, you can make decent microfoam with this machine; it just requires that you accept the limited positioning and angles available to you. You can retrofit the newer and slightly longer wand if you want to spend $40 or so, but frankly it looks like only a small upgrade given that it doesn't fully swivel. The plastic water tank on mine degassed plastic smell for almost the entire first year of use. This required that I empty the tank and fill it with fresh water each morning. No amount of scrubbing helped. After a year and a half, the degassing stopped, and the water now stays good.