After 3+ years I'm still in love with this machine.
Positive Product Points
Two words: Pressurized Portafilter. Many folks dislike it. I just can't get enough of it. The foamy creama might not be quite natural to some "purists", but it never failed to please less demanding drinkers including myself. The pump has been strong and unit has showed good brewing reliability. Good Customer Support from Saeco. The machine is easy to use and will get you a quality shot with minimal effort.
Negative Product Points
I paid probably more than anybody else for it. It was more than 3 years ago though. The manual is useless. No detailed instructions on how to use the pressurized portafilter. Plastic body does not contribute to good overall apearance. After two years of use the plastic (illumuinated) switch got cracked at its bottom and has completely desintegrated.
It was my first pump machine and I still love it. The upgrade from steam unit I used prior to it was just shocking. I use an "ultra entry level" grinder (Pavony PA) with it and quite proud of results. Here's why: After the introduction of a "real" espresso coffee to my friends, I have seen all of them obtaining various espresso machines: manual and/or fully automatic. I myself also bought a Solis 5000 recently to force my gests to use "self-service". And what can I say? My old Saeco Via Veneto still makes better shots than any automatic and yields only to Rocky-Silvia tandem that I will probably go to eventually, but no sooner then my Via dies. She doesn't seem to do it soon, however. The only problem I had as far as reliability is concerned was the "brewing switch" that fell apart after 2 years of use. Saeco parts distributor sent me a $9.00 replacement. The old one was easy to pop out with knife. Reconnection of 3 wires and switch replacement took a 4 minutes total. Was I upset with it? No. Unlike, say, your car, the espresso machine is something you have to take apart often routinely. If that necessity couses you to panic, you'd better buy your espresso from a local shop. Thus, when plastic part breaks you either will have no problem to fix your machine, or just have a problem, period, so do not buy any.
Concluding my commentary I could only say that (after some comparisons with other low and mid priced units) the Via Veneto happened to be a very good product out there. For under $100 consider it a steal. It is still better than $500-1100 automatics (latter with micropocessor control) if espresso is what you brew and if, of course, you apreciate the generous crema the pressurized portafilter can produce. If $450 is no much difference than $150 to you, then buy a $450 manual machine. Keep in mind you will not get 3 times better shot out of it (if Via Veneto your $150 choice), not even "just a better shot" sometimes unless you are pro. What you will get is a better boiler and less plastic inside and out. The pump will be the same (for Silvia). For the most part it effects only how long the unit lasts, not how good your espresso would be. On the other hand, you don't really want your machine to last for too long anyway. Why? The periodic upgrades is what you hobby will demand.