Cheap all round: plastic on the outside, low grade consumer components on the inside. You need fanatical Japanese style quality control to produce anything reliable this cheaply, and apparently Heathware doesn‘t have it. Mine worked well for about 50 roasts, then needed to be replaced. Even the best of these units rarely last out two years.
Very simple to use. The unit runs as loud as a hair dryer, so hearing the roasting cracks is difficult. On the other hand, it is easy to see the degree of roast. On mine, the same dial setting produces the same color roast repeatedly if I weigh my beans carefully; so once you have it set, it can work with minimal attention (a good thing too, given the noise)
Smoke and smell are a problem for all homeroasters if you don‘t have a hooded range exhaust. Sweetmarias.com has instructions on how to rig up a venting box and duct. I built mine in about twenty minutes.
Capacity is the HWP‘s major problem - I roast six batches a week (takes about two hours), which gives me about 400 grams (14 oz) of roasted coffee. Check your time budget and coffee consumption carefully before buying this unit: you may need a higher capacity roaster.
First of all, unless you have a friendly neighborhood roaster, home roasting will raise your coffee experience to a whole new level in terms of coffee quality and variety.
That being said, an air roaster roasts differently from a commercial roaster. At the same roast color, air roasted beans have less body and more acidity than a commercial roast. However, the micro-processor in the HWP does an excellent job in creating a balanced and consistent roast.
The HWP probably delivers the best all around roasts among home roasters. But this comes at a price - it's so poorly built that you can expect to replace it every two years, and it's painfully noisy and slow.
I, for one, prefer the cheaper, more reliable, and "more roasted beans per hour" Fresh Roast model (see my review), even though it's difficult to duplicate the HWP's coffee quality with it.
Sweet Maria's is a coffee lover's dream site. Visit, and if possible, buy something.
Three Month Followup
Apparently Nemesis has caught up with Hearthware's hubris in trying to build an overly cheap roaster with state of the art controls -- they've stopped making it because of return expenses.
But I'm not getting any "I told you so" satisfaction from this. Reliability issues aside, the HWP is the only roaster I'd recommend to anyone who wants to home roast without making a big learning time investment. Getting a roast as good as the first try out of an HWP will take a few weeks learning with any of the other home roasters now available.
So my advice, if you just want to check out how good homeroasting can be, grab an HWP or two before they're gone. If you know you want to get into home roating, consider the bulletproof Freshroast.