Value for money: I paid $75 for my machine, delivered. The relative ease of use: there is really no learning curve with this machine. And its small footprint preserves valuable kitchen real estate.
Negative Product Points
The crema-enhancing pressurized portafilter, which gives you consistent results but removes all discretion over length of pour. And the steam wand is a bastard--waaaay too short and too close to the machine.
Because of the sale price, this was a great deal for an espresso neophyte. When I upgrade, it will make an excellent second machine for my office.
As built, it would drive a true espresso aficionado wild because of the lack of control -- about the only discretionary aspect is the amount of coffee you stuff in the basket. If I can get hold of a non-pressurized Saeco portafilter (which they have reportedly stopped making), I think it will be an even better machine because I will have more control over the brewing process. If you cannot get hold of a non-pressurized pf, you can apparently adapt the pressurized one by tinkering with it and ripping out its little crema-enhancing innards. Details via deja.com when it is back up: look for "pressurized", "Saeco" and "portafilter" in the alt.coffee archive.
The steam wand comes with an outer froth-enhancer which makes a lovely decoration for the inside of your favourite trashcan. The unenhanced wand remains problematic, however, because it is way too short and far too close to the machine. If your kitchen allows it, place your machine with its right side at the edge of a counter, which gives you more room for moving your frothing pitcher around and getting that wildly desirable Milky Vortex. And despite its design flaws, the steaming workaround (posted as part of the coffeekid review of the machine) results in nice velvety microfoam.
All in all, this machine is very good value for money and a huge improvement on my MagicChef steam toy. If you are an espresso beginner and can find the Via Veneto/ Melitta for under $100, I think this is an ideal starter pump machine. (Keep an eye on Cyberrebates.com for more deals like this one and check www.dealtime.com from time to time, too).
Bought via eBay, an unremarkable transaction
Three Month Followup
Well, this is a one-year followup comment...
The machine is fine for a $75 deal. It functions far better once you get the non-pressurized pf and can produce real crema, albeit not the sinuous glistening tiger-mottled stuff you get from a commercial machine. One caveat: if you leave it to warm up for too long the pf gets too hot and your shot tastes bitter and over-extracted. It produces microfoam without too much difficulty and, teamed with a commercial grinder, produces reliably pleassant shots.