For little outlay a great machine for learning on that will make great espresso, but not if you make more than two doubles in the morning and need lots of milk.
Positive Product Points
Great first 'proper' machine. Easy to use. All stainless and solid build. Easy to keep clean. Minimal counter space required. Quick warm up. Easy to tweak and upgrade. Popular enough to have lots of internet and parts support.
Negative Product Points
Very high pump pressure as standard. Need to be careful not to pull a shot at the bottom of the boiler cycle (goes sour). Steaming requires timing trick to get the best. Microfrother attachment hit and miss successful in producing microfoam.
I bought this rather than a Silvia simply because I found it at a good price (end of line). Well supported by internet resources it has allowed me to understand a lot of the detail of espresso very fast as overcoming its shortcomings is a good learning tool. The biggest single annoyances are very high pump pressure as standard (required for pods), temperature drop during shots giving sour taste and getting the right type of steaming going on.
Pump pressure: I dropped it to 9 bar following the detail given from several forums (easy job by the way). Gives a much thicker mouth feel back to back against working at 12 bar - also far more forgiving as to grind setting.
Sourness: To fix the sourness, one must pull the shot at the top of the boiler cycle. You have to either develop a surf technique that works for you or fit a PID as I did eventually. In addition, avoid running any water through the boiler (e.g. cup warming) before pulling a shot as the Gaggia takes about 4 minutes to restabilise even with a PID as the small boiler is affected by the influx of cold water. (Some geeks fit preheaters to help this). This is EVEN THOUGH the thermostat or PID is reading "ready to go" the ACTUAL water temperature is not quite high enough. Leave it the 4 mins between shots and it's fine.
Steaming: After fitting the PID, it became very obvious what was going on in the little Gaggia. If you wait for the steam light before steaming the temperature drops (down to 120 deg C) through the steaming and the frothing power is feeble. The trick is to hit the steam switch, and wait for ~140 degC (count to seven) bleed the condensation and then start frothing right away (by which time the steam is about 155-160 deg) This way the heater never clicks off and you have enough steam power to get you milk pitcher done.
Steam wand: Now replaced by a Silvia wand, the Gaggia frother could sometimes create very good microfoam, but mostly not.
For pulling four doubles a morning in quick succession it's just time consuming. The great advantage of this machine is the massive support abounding on forums, websites and from specialists to hep you with surf tricks, steaming tricks, PIDs, wands and pressure mods.
On time, included a set of Gaggia cups and saucers for free.
Three Month Followup
More like eighteen months on: Still a great machine at half the price of Silvia I would buy again. The PID has really made a difference to the ease of use. However, with a growing family and more drinks required, the little boiler cannot meet the demands of either more back to back shots in a reasonable time and/or then steam enough milk for four lattes. Fair enough that is not in its design spec. Onwards and upwards then and the Classic has been replaced by a Bezzera BZ02s.
Had to keep an eye on tightness of the boiler to the frame and also had loosening of the shower screen dispersion block - I imagine both due to vibration of the pump. All stainless build going strong with no corrosion anywhere at the base or inside. Regularly descaled and run on semi hard water, the steam valve is fine. Portafiler gasket fine too.