Substantial (chrome-plated brass) filter holder. Stainless-steel boiler. Small footprint. Clean, attractive design. Simple controls--one switch and one knob. Not all plastic (metal drip-tray grid and upright). Frothing aid is easy to remove. Reliable--five years and counting! Two-layer drip tray--can remove top layer for a tall cup or the optional pitcher.
Negative Product Points
You can choke it with a fine grind (despite its hairy-chested Ulka pump). Water tank could be bigger--I think it's 34 ounces (1 liter). Have to hold the machine with one hand while tightening or loosening the portafilter because the machine isn't very wide. Drip tray doesn't hold very much--it's really for drips only. Won't cure "upgrade fever." :-)
The other disadvantages are standard for machines in its class--it has tinny filter baskets that come out when you try to use a knock box, and it doesn't have a three-way valve, so the pucks are soupy, it drips after the shot is pulled, and you can't backflush the machine.
This review is mostly for historical purposes; these are no longer made.
This was the Cadillac of low-end machines (would that make it the Cimarron)? I own three of these, and I've used my oldest one for more than five years. I had to replace the gasket that seals the filter to the brewhead last year on my oldest one, but it's been a workhorse otherwise.
It's a sweet little machine. The design is very clean. It would look good in any kitchen. Think of a nearly featureless black cylinder held above a metal drip tray by a piece of matte-finished aluminum. The front of the cylinder has only one switch and one knob, and both are black and subtle. The removable water tank is in the back. Don't get me wrong--this is no Royal Balance Brewer--but it won't embarrass you (Note: doesn't look like the picture on this page).
Comes in two flavors: a "Novo Compact" and a "Novo Compact Latte," which, I understand, is the same machine with an additional four-cup filter basket and a glass carafe with measuring lines for milk so that you can supposedly do four cappuccinos or lattes at a time. I tried to order one of these carafes from a parts dealer, but the dealer had sold out of them. I know how much milk to use for cappuccinos and lattes--I just wanted to play around with it. Oh, well.
The machine's best feature, which will be appreciated by anyone who has fondled other sub-hundred-dollar machines, is the heavy chrome-plated brass portafilter. It makes you feel as if you're participating in something worthwhile. Ever pick up a gavel? This is the kind of real (and figurative) weight I'm talking about. I smile every time I pick it up.
I played with a Gusto recently, the grandson of the Novo Compact, and I was not impressed. I hear it makes good coffee, but, largely because of its lightweight aluminum portafilter, the whole machine has a cheap feel to it that the Novo Compact does not.
Makes its best shots when hot. I run some water through the machine before making an espresso in the morning to warm up the machine and my cup.
I have had a "God Shot" with this machine (really!) although I'm not claiming that the Novo Compact is the best tool for the job. This machine is capable of great shots with a good grinder and freshly-roasted beans. I find that my best shots come from using as much coffee as I can get into the double basket and grinding so finely that the machine takes nearly a minute to dribble out a ristretto.
I've used it with pods, too, though it was not made for them. Tip: wet the pod slightly and smash it with your thumb into the bottom of the one-cup filter basket.
I only drink espresso, so I don't steam much. I've steamed with it for other people, and the steam is adequate. I've taken it to parties, too--it's small enough to put in a paper shopping bag for the trip to the party. Comes with the ubiquitous Krups "Perfect Froth" attachment, which works well for people with no frothing experience, although it produces a stiff foam instead of the velvety foam one needs for pouring latte art.
Bought all three refurbished. I think I paid US $50.00 for one at Fry's Electronics in Fremont and $80 for the other two on overstock.com. Overstock.com's service is great, and they only charge $3.95 for shipping. These haven't been made new for several years. You might come across one used or on E-bay sometime.
Three Month Followup
Still going strong...
One Year Followup
Still working well--I most often use it now as a milk steamer at parties.