The machine is well built with tight tolerances on all pieces. Additionally, it weights 15lbs and everything has a substantial feel. The pressurized portafilter makes excellent crema and very good espresso. Overall, the high quality of the machine leads me to believe it will hold up well.
Negative Product Points
The grinder works well, but does not grind quite as fine as my local coffee shop can do for me. With the professionally ground beans, the espresso is a bit better. However, the grinder does work well - much better than other, stand-alone grinders I've seen for $75 or more. So, it adds to the overall value of the product.
The boiler runs out of steam fairly quickly. If you try to steam enough milk for 2 double lattes or cappuccinos, the boiler will need to reheat at least once before the steaming is finished.
It's a nice machine. It is more substantial, at 15 pounds, than I had anticipated. Everything about this machine speaks to its quality. The parts all fit together with tight tolerances and have a hefty feel right out of the box. Now for our impressions.
The instructions are okay. Perhaps a little was lost in translating from Italian to English. Luckily my girlfriend is from Milan so she was able to read the Italian sections of the instruction booklet when we had questions. Regardless, it was easy enough to setup, bleed the air out of the system and prepare it for the first few shots.
We had bought some beans locally. Part of the beans were ground at the store and some we kept as whole beans. For the first few shots, I used the beans that we had ground at the local store. The grind was very, very fine and the coffee felt like powdered sugar. The shots were very good with lots of crema. However, the first shot was neither as large in volume nor as hot as the follow-on shots were. Still, all-in-all we were both impressed with the consistency, crema and flavor of the shots. We then decided to make cappuccino.
The steam function is very easy to use. However, the boiler is a bit smaller than optimal for the amount of steamed milk that my girlfriend likes so we were only able to steam half of the milk before the operating temp light went out and we had to wait about 30-40 seconds for it to reach the right temp again. It was not ideal, but the 30-40 seconds was very quick in our humble opinion and gave me time to fill up the porafilter for her drink (the portafilter had been warming locked into the brewhead during steaming, as per the instructions). When we finished steaming the milk, we made her shot. It too was very smooth with plenty of crema and seemed a bit warmer than the first shot so she was happy. She reports that the drink was much better than she is used to from Starbucks.
Now, I switched to the whole beans and filled the hopper on the machine's built-in grinder. After fooling around with a few small test samples grinding at different levels, I set the machine to grind at what I think is its finest grind. The grounds were consistent and the grinder did a decent job. However, the grind was not nearly as fine as what we had ground at the local coffee shop. I was a bit disappointed in that. However, we forged ahead and tamped the grinds into the portafilter for a double shot. At this point, the machine was really hitting its sweet spot and the temp light stayed on longer than in any of the previous shots. We were able to get a good sized double shot before the temp light turned off. That was impressive. The shots had tremendous crema and smelled great. Unfortunately, while the shots were good, about on par with Starbucks, they were neither as flavorful nor as smooth as the shots with the locally ground coffee. I was a bit disappointed, though in all fairness, the machine might grind finer, I just didn't have enough time to play around as much as I need to. Also, the shots were good and we will definitely be using the machine instead of Starbucks, it's just the shots were a smidge less flavorful than the preceeding shots with the finer grind.
So far, I would say that with the finer grind, the shots were as good as the ones I've had from other people's Saeco Classico and Starbucks Barista machines. And, we paid far, far, far less than either of those machines and got a decent, if not amazing, burr grinder included in the price.
Very good. First time using Ebay, but it was a breeze.
Three Month Followup
After a spending some time figuring it out, we determined that the grinder works much better than originally thought. Unfortunately, the directions were backwards so we were using the wrong settings. However, once we figured it we were quickly able to dial-in the right setting (#5 for us, anything finer clogs the machine and no water passes).
The machine has proved very reliable and sound with daily use. The espresso is definitely on par with friends' Saeco Classico, Barista and Gaggia Coffee machines. We did have a problem with the portafilter coming apart and had to buy a new one from Saeco (it's the same PF as all the Saeco and Spidem models). However, I had apparently voided the warranty by trying to fix the PF myself. I suggest you don't do that. But, Saeco shipped right away and everything works well again.
We enjoy the machine and would recommend it to others. I don't believe you can get a better deal at this price range.
One Year Followup
This machine has performed admirably for the past year. The original portafilter did develop a problem and was unable to pass water. I needed to replace it, but the warranty would not cover the costs. So, I had to pay about $30 for a new one. Other than that, this machine reliably produces 8-10 shots of espresso daily. It produces a very good shot. In fact, it is better than the esperesso at Starbucks or the other chains. I have even taken the machine on 2 road trips so I could make my own espresso.
I don't think you can get a better machine at this price point.