Good solid machine at a great price. Makes better Espresso than Starbucks right-off the bat. Worth experimenting with various roasts/blends/freshness/grinds to find your sweet-spot.
Positive Product Points
The machine is easy to use, looks good and makes better-tasting coffee than I've had at home with my old Moka pot. Beautiful crema with the pressurized portafilter using fresh ground beans, but even the Pressurized Porta-filter (PPF) could not bring to life my old stale stash of pre-ground Bustelo. I also got a Non-Pressurized PF (NPPF), (metal, not the drilled-out type) and so far it's providing smoother shots than the PPF in 4/4 side-by-side taste tests using a variety of pre-ground and whole-bean fresh-ground coffee. A great starter machine that's helping me learn what I like, and how to make it.
Negative Product Points
Just two: The catch-basin grate is flimsy, and I wish Saeco had a triple-shot filter. The double filter just does not seem to put out enough flavor octane in the 3-oz shot I typically pour into a morning latte. I had to pull 4.5 oz to get enough bite into the milk. I tasted the espresso at the 3-oz level and then the subsequent 1.5 oz. in a separate container and noticed a distinct bitterness for the last part of the shot. That is probably normal for any coffee maker with a standard double-shot filter and is not meant to be a negative criticism for the coffee maker, I just wish I could cram more intense flavor into my initial 3-oz shot!
I love the redesigned SS exterior with the two buttons in front, it makes it look good and it's easy to clean. I like the water tank - it's easy to fill or drain. I took apart the cover and looked inside... well-organized wiring and clear layout. If anything breaks, I should be able to fix-it myself with basic tools. Wires are in good flexible shape, components are clean and bright. I may want to invest in a pressure reducer to install it between the pump and the boiler, it seems there is room to add stuff.
I have not yet mastered the art of the 25 second shot. It seems to do a double shot (3 oz) in about 15 seconds. So far it does not matter how fine the grind and how much tamping I do. Also, I'm not sure if I'm doing it right, but I put a pre-tested digital thermometer under the group-head shower and ran the pump to test the water temperature. I got 160 degrees with the shower water running over the probe after the machine had warmed up and primed and the brew light was on. I tried it again after hitting the Steam button and got a reading of 175 degrees after a bit of steam had come out. I have not tried making a cup with the higher temp setting, but I thought the water should be hotter coming out of the group-head on the brew setting. I measured the boiler exterior temperature when the cover was off, and it was over 230 degrees, so I'm sure I'm missing something. I guess I'll just have to try a few different ways to brew and see how they taste.
More details on the PF options - using fresh-roasted (1-day) and ground coffee (Rocky) I got a very smooth and drinkable shot from Dunn Brothers' Java French Roast using the NPPF. Almost too smooth. I then tried the PPF, and it was so close! It had better crema, and a slight bitter edge that actually added to the experience (starting with a relatively smooth, fresh and sweet bean). So, I'm not so sure now about PPF or NPPF. More testing is needed with different (finer?) grinds. Try using both the PPF and the NPPF, you might surprise yourself! There's enogh of a difference in the flavor to make it worth spending the extra $30 I paid for the NPPF on Ebay.
I also took apart the PPF to see how the mechanism work. It was easy to remove and easy to put back together with just a phillips screwdriver. You have to be a bit careful with the springs (all 3 of them) when re-assembling the PPF. The assembly is well-engineered, but definitely fussier than the NPF. I plan to put a video of the dis-assembly on YouTube at some point.
E-bay is usually a good experience for me. I took my time researching, liked what I read here and videos I saw on YouTube. I found a seller that handles reconditioned machines and decided to take a chance. In my case the seller sent a different machine initially, but recovered nicely when I contacted him. The whole delayed-gratification experience may have heightened my expectations, but I was satisfied when I received the correct machine after impatiently waiting for one more week. I kept an eye out for other machines, and found no other deals I would have rather taken. So far so good. (I might have bit on the $500 Giotto if they hadn't increased the starting bid to $800, and I can't believe a non-working Sylvia just sold for $325!)
Three Month Followup
Still using it daily. Getting more consistent shots. (Now I let the machine warm up for at least 15 min before pulling a shot, plus I run hot water through the system to get the grouphead nice and hot). I figured out the right grind and tamp... It was a lot finer than I thought, I have the Rocky doserless set on 2. I had to get the grinds to the point of being so tight that they choked-off the flow of water, then I backed off a bit. The Saeco is reliable and fast. I just had to get used to it. I tried warming up the water even more by hitting the steam button 10 sec. prior to pulling the shot, I also tried pre-infusion with just a bit of water to let the grounds expand just 30 seconds before pulling the shot. Neither method made much difference, so I'm just letting the machine warm-up and pulling one or two double-shots. I still prefer the NP filter for espresso, but my wife likes the PF for lattes. The next frontier is home roasting for flavor, freshness and variety (control of roast). I got a used air popper, a thermocouple and a variac. Good results so far, but looking for more productivity. Turbo-oven setup is next. Will I upgrade to an E61 or HX machine? Only time will tell.