Francis! X5 May be the best value available in a home machine if you are willing to accomodate some dripping from the lack of a 3 way solenoid valve. .
Positive Product Points
Solid, warms quickly, unapologetic in its styling, puts out some seriously good espresso with good beans, workable steam with good microfoam (by surfing the hole). Real Metal Equipment! (except for the clock)
Negative Product Points
No three way solenoid (Franny's a bit of a drooler). Small Capacity bolier (but hey it's a home machine). Recycles quickly. Where the @%$ can I find another battery to fit this funky clock.... Would it have been such a big deal to run a wire to it? Whats an LR-1 battery anyway, are they made my Oompa-Loompahs? (Aha, here we go, E-bay, 2 for 4 bucks)
Ok, I have been curious about the Francis! X5. Any company that includes 2 exclamation marks in their name better have something to back it up!! I have read the many excellent reviews here (thanks folks). I saw a Black Francis X5 advertised locally in good working condition with little use for (really) $45.00 so I decided to pick it up. It came with everything but the funky detachable tamper plus a couple of cans of Illy pods. Apparently the prior owner was an exclusive POD-iatrist and off-loaded my new friend Francis for a more automated Pod processor. (To each his own...)
My fIrst trial was with the old pods... Old pods are truly worse than nothing. Convenient but... (yuk) So next trial I got some good beans, ground them fresh and tamped a double with (no lie) a jar of sesame seeds (!) from my cabinet (my 58mm tamper was too big!) and Badda-Bing, faster than you can say "How much did this cost again" I actually put out a really nice shot, great flavor with good body, and good crema. This machine is definitely for real! Next I purged the water out of the wand, got some cold 2% and surfed the hole till I had a nice pitcher of microfoam and warm milk. Yessiree Bob, she's latte-capable. This may be the best $45 I ever spent!
So while Francis may not be as all-together as her friend Miss Silvia or even the Gaggia Classic, if you are willing to accomodate her droolish ways (Yo.. Francis! Francis! Folks, can you say "3 way solenoid valve"?) she really and truly impressed me. Excellent espresso with good quality beans, instantly pod capable (if you are so inclined), warms quicky, workable steam wand, and tasty tasty espresso. Can't speak yet to servicability. I have read however that Illy discourages anyone but them servicing Francis! Francis!, but one quick call and they gladly E-mailed me a parts list (with no prices).
I ordered a 56mm tamper (I might decide to eat the sesame seeds someday!) and I think Francis and I will be spending some quality time together in the mornings. In the espresso "bang for the buck" category, I can whole-heartedly endorse the Francis! X5 if you can pick up a refurb or lightly used machine at a price point that is favorable compared to Miss Silvia or a Gaggia Classic. I think the quality of the espresso is comparable, but the differentiator is the absence of the 3 way valve on the Francis! X5 and (probably) the reluctance of Illy to encourage owner service and repairs. At any price less than $300 (depending on condition) I feel this machine cannot be beat as long as you accomodate a little portafilter drool and don't mind waiting 30 seconds after a shot for the excess water on the portafilter to drain off.
My Pod-addicted friend was an incredibly nice guy. And with every nice shot I pull from "Franny", I like him even more.