This machine is reliable, easy to use, and most of all, the best quality for the money.
Positive Product Points
Value Ease of Use
Negative Product Points
Frothing wand isn't really capable if producing "velvet foam" The "Rapporto Filter" (thing you put the coffee grounds in) isn't very cleanable, leaving old coffee residue and leftovers
In my opinion, this is the best espresso machine you can by for the money. Many of the negative reviews on this site come from people who are probably using much more expensive machines as a basis for comparison.
This machine is tried and true, with many years of reliable performance history. This is the first machine I have purchased and I'm quite happy with the results. Clearly it won't give you professional results, but again for the money, it will probably be the best espresso you can produce at home.
I'll get the negatives out of the way:
The descaling process is pretty tedious- it will probably take you around an hour (30 minutes of it is waiting time though).
Despite my best efforts (through practice and research), I really can't seem to get nice smooth foam. It innevitably ends up with very large bubbles in it.
The "Rapporto Filter" (Starbucks' cheesy corporate title for the thing you put the coffee grounds in) is pretty tough to clean. It's hard to describe, but basically there is a chamber on the underside of it that has two small holes for the espresso to come out of. Unless you dismantle the unit completely (i.e. get out a screwdriver), it's really tough to rinse it out. The trick for me has been to run it under fairly high pressure water so that the water stream hits only one of the two holes on the underside. If you hold it level, the foamy coffee residue will bubble out of the other hole. Obviously it makes you wonder what's being left behind. This issue really doesn't seem to affect the quality of the espresso, though.
Those are my only 3 complaints. I would recommend this to anybody who doesn't want to break the bank, is new to espresso, and would rather make theirs at home rather than purchasing the overpriced (in my opinion) stuff from coffee shops. As an accountant, it's hard for me to look past the fact that probably 80% of the cost of a cup of espresso you purchase at Starbucks, Peet's, etc covers the companies' overhead costs (facility leases, capital costs for furniture and fixtures, electricity, etc etc). That means there are huge savings to be had by the home hobbiest since he/she won't have to pay such costs when he/she makes his/her own espresso at home. It will pay itself off very quickly when you look at it that way.
This machine is not for the pro's or the SERIOUS hobbiests who like to do taste tests and spout the coffee snob lingo. But guys like me are very happy with this machine. The coffee really does taste good, and I'm not saying that because I need the self-edification to comfort myself for my purchase decision.
Being the type of guy who always looks on to the next (read: bigger, better) thing, I know that I will probably move on to a fancier machine sometime in the next 5 years. For now, I'm going to read up on home coffee roasting and educate myself on green coffee beans until my major quality limitation is my espresso machine. I'm not there yet though!!
Starbucks customer service is fantastic. The nice thing is, you don't really have to worry about not getting the best price, since Starbucks controls the only distribution channel (and thus has control over the pricing).