This machine is ok, but there are better choices for the money
Positive Product Points
This machine has mostly worked well for three years and produces good (not great) espresso. It's fairly easy to use and I especially like the "continuous steam" feature when making several milk-based drinks at once. Removing and filling the water tank is also easy.
Negative Product Points
The water tank is too small and it's tricky getting a good froth from the steam wand.
I bought this machine after my old Starbucks Barista started failing about three years ago. I repaired the Barista and gave it to my brother, but I've always wished I had it back. The Athena is just an ok machine. I haven't had the timer problems some people have, though I find the timer feature to be largely useless since it doesn't reliably produce the same volume of water every time. The pump has been reliable and seems to produce decent pressure, though I've rarely been able to coax a shot out of it that was as good as what I could get from the Barista.
The steam wand is tricky to use well. I've found that if I heat the machine for steaming, then switch to brewing and pump water through the steam wand, then heat again for steam I will get good pressure and can froth about 16-20oz of milk pretty well. The pump pulses water into the chamber so that you can steam continuously and this works ok. My old Barista needed to be re-primed for more than two drinks but I can steam four lattes with the Athena.
I've also found the water tank to be easy to remove and fill but undersized. It needs to be refilled after making only three or four lattes. For some reason they molded the tank with a large ledge consuming nearly one third of its potential volume. Since it's easy to remove and fill this isn't that big a problem, but better capacity would've been nice.
Unfortunately, the machine started having mechanical problems a few months ago with the steam wand not shutting off fully and dribbling water (and losing pressure) while brewing. The wand has now completely failed and the threads on the brass needle valve have worn down from me trying to close it tightly to stop the dribble. Now the whole steam valve assembly shoots out of the machine if I try to use it :-( Starbucks doesn't provide parts for the steam assembly, only for the brewhead and they've sent me to Saeco for replacement parts or service. (Note: other reviews claim this machine is made by Estro, but Starbucks tells me it's Saeco -- I don't know what that's all about).
I think the machine is ok, and if you get it cheap or as a gift you will probably enjoy using it. If you're shopping for a new machine I'd recommend looking elsewhere. I don't know how the current incarnation of the Starbucks Barista compares to my old one, but I was fairly happy with it. Right now I'm awaiting arrival of my new Simonelli Oscar, but that's in a much higher price class than this machine and so isn't an appropriate alternative.
I bought the machine at Starbucks and the experience was ok but not exceptional. When I bought my old Barista several years before the service was awesome --they filled out the warranty card for me right there, threw in coffee and a tamper, etc. This one was pretty much just a charge-my-card-and-go experience. I could just as well have been buying a cup of coffee as an expensive espresso machine.