I bought this at Target on clearance when my steam toy broke. I was thrilled when I took it out of the box, as it weighed about ten times what my braun or krups or whateverthehellitwas weighed. With pre ground espresso from Starbucks or my local roaster (Coffee and Tea Ltd., best in the Twin Cities) it actually made espresso instead of dark burnt watery swill. It wasn't up to the best espresso I'd had, but for what I paid I was thrilled.
I feared this machine though. When I turned on the pump for steam, it made a kind of cool rhythmic chug... chug... chug... but when I turned the knob to make espresso, I had to hold onto the glass carafe otherwise it might vibrate out from under the group head! Sometimes I would be in the middle of making steamed milk when it would just stop! The only way to get the steamer to work again would be to turn the unit off and back on again, but then the steam pump would run twice as fast, chugchugchugchug and I always felt that I was in danger from the unit exploding when this happened.
Part of this fear stemmed from an accident that was caused by user error on the part of yours truly. I put a little too much coffee in the basket and tightened the handle all the way, or so I thought. During the brewing of espresso (with me holding the carafe as usual), the machine vibrated the portafilter right out of the grouphead with quite an explosion, shattering the carafe. I spent the next half hour picking glass slivers out of my hand and stomach. I don't know for sure that the handle wasn't tightened all the way to the right, but since I used the machine for six months after that without it happening again, I assume that it was an error on my part. You can bet that I was DAMN SURE the handle was all the way tight from then on. I would recommend getting metal shot pitchers to use instead of the glass carafe to anyone buying the machine just in case. Actually, now that I think about it, I may have been using the carafe from my steam toy with the Mr. Coffee when this occurred. This happened well over a year ago, so forgive me if I don't remember. I did end up getting a metal shot pitcher for the maker though.
I did manage to get a little crema out of the machine when the amount of coffee and the tamp was just right (good training for my Silvia!), and it made good mochas, but I wouldn't drink the espresso straight. The water reservior was cool, I could steam a whole bunch of milk and make several shots without refilling! I could never do that with my steam toy.
Even though the unit was encased in plastic, it didn't seem flimsy. In fact, the flimsiest part was the aluminum drip tray plate! The fixed steam wand made it necessary to use it on the far right edge of the counter for use with a decent steam pitcher.
I ended up giving this unit to a friend when I bought my Rancilio Silvia. She really likes the unit. I wouldn't pay full retail, but for the money I can recommend it, but BE CAREFUL.