Drop the air popper or the pre-roast. Get a FR+ and find the next level.
Positive Product Points
The FreshRoast Plus is extremely easy to use and produces very repeatable results. Through a little less than 10 lbs of roasts so far, the unit has fared very well and gives every sign of a long future.
Negative Product Points
The timer dial only runs to 5 minutes, and I generally roast between 5 1/2 and 7 minutes depending on the bean; an 8 or 10 minute timer would be an improvement.
The roasting chamber and lid only rest on the base. I would worry far less about an accidental chamber breakage if the chamber had a locking mechanism to hold it to the base (some sort of retaining clip).
My first roasts were on an old air popper. It took me nearly a pound of green beans to even get in the ballpark of where I wanted to be. Even after a few pounds, I still found the process of roasting to be very tedious.
The FR+ has changed my outlook on roasting; now, I look forward to roasting up a new batch. Basically, I plug the unit in on the back porch and turn it on for a couple minutes. Go inside and fetch the measured beans and come back outside to a warmed up roaster. Dump the beans and turn the timer. Come back in a couple minutes and dial another 1 to 2 minutes to the timer and wait. The FR+ dutifully roasts along, showing the roast progress easily through the glass roasting chamber. It progresses on its own to a sufficiently long cool down cycle and turns itself off. Dump beans and repeat.
I've done as many as four roasts back-to-back, and others have reported doing more consecutively. It seems to handle the repeated roasts without a problem.
While the bean capacity is not enormous, I have no complaint with it. I roast for two people drinking one or two doubles a day. My normal roast is SM Monkey blend 80/20 with a robusta. I run two batches of that and one batch of a rotating variety for experimentation. Three batches every four to five days, and life is good.
Having never owned a drum roaster, I can't compare the FR+ to them, but I do highly recommend it as a step up from the air popper. The ease of use and repeatability of roasts is worth the $70.
From the FR+ to green beans, Sweet Maria's has always been excellent. I would highly recommend buying from them. Don't miss out on the sampler pack with the FR+; the variety provides a good learning tool both for bean tastes and roast behavior.