OK, I admit it: this is a eulogy for a perfectly good and faithful machine that has made countless wonderful shots by people who knew not what they were doing. I feel bad for replacing due to form over function. I just couldn't look at it another day.
This replaced a decade old Gaggia that bit the grounds. In its post-mortem, I found an aluminum boiler that somehow survived the cheap pump. I appreciate inexpensive, but not cheap. The Saeco has a stainless boiler, which I believe should be standard.
It has been run dry and likely overheated, not maintained (de-limed), left on for weeks at a time, and its only failure was when the upper screen became disgustingly choked with gunk, squirting out what few screen openings there were. Getting the upper screen out is a royal pain; the + screw lodges tight and even an experienced mechanic buggered it. Two removals later, it will now have to be drilled out. Part of the problem is getting a screwdriver in there to begin with. Basic maintenance shouldn't require special tools like offset screwdrivers.
I like the fact that the water level is obvious from a casual glance and the tank is easily removed and replaced without fiddling with hoses. That is nicer feature than you'd think if you go through a lot.
Downsides are few: the portafilter has some kind of pressure regulating device that regularly requires cleaning. I now know this to be a crema booster and it likely helped my coffee before I knew what I know now about grinding. Cleaning requires disassembling with tools and paying attention to how it goes back together. Ultimately, I removed the offending details, got my crema as the gods intended by grinding properly, and it looks like Billybob's pickup without the hood. I was never able to disgorge a spent puck by knocking it, it always had to be manually dug out.
I can't really comment on the steamer. I only operated the valve to burp it, and then only after it was run dry.
I'm not a fan of plastic, especially "well seasoned" plastic. Fortunately, it is strong enough, just ugly and cheap looking. But hey, results are (almost) everything. Function over form prevailed like a dented old toyota truck. After finally removing what looked to be two spoonfulls of semi-dissolved scale during its first cleaning, it was quiet once again and shot water through Illy's espresso grind way too fast. It now requires carefully ground coffee like the big boys (my Braun burr got retired too). Supplied that, it will go another hundred thousand miles. But I can't. Retirement time.
This is your perfect lake cottage machine. This is your perfect budget machine. Go for the grinder first and use this. It will give you downright wonderful coffee despite inexperience, without anally retentive doting, but it looks (and is) cheap... er, "inexpensive". Now I want form with my function. After reading about reliability problems with "barista quality" stainless kilobuck pretty machines, I'm keeping ol' Billybob closeby as a backup.