BODY. Plastic skin over a cast aluminium frame. The plastic feel loose and flexible, especially the side panels, but has held up well for over 2 years. The metal frame is very solid. Really small footprint of 9x9 in. It actually feels much smaller since it has a nice rounded shape - take a look at the pictures.
RESERVOIR. Only accessable from the back. The intake tube can get in the way when you remove/replace it. I don't remove it, but flip the whole unit around (quite easy since the whole unit is so compact and light), tilt it out (it locks open), and pour water in. There's a water level viewer up front so you can check when you are low, but it's kind of hard to see (clear on clear), so I usually just flip it around instead.
BOILER. Solid brass. Large (6oz vs 3.5oz for the Gaggia's) for it's class. May have a teflon coating on the inside. I'll open it up to check when I finally have to clean/descale it. I'm a little bit leary running strong cleaners thru it as I've heard reports of teflon de-laminating.
BREWHEAD. Solid brass, but undersized (54mm?). I would have liked the 58mm commercial sized one, but probably not at this price point.
PORTAFILTER. Heavy solid brass, non-pressurized, but undersized. Teflon coating both inside and out, which held up surprisingly well, just minor wear along the edges. Nice thing about teflon is that the coffee crud doesn't build up - I was surprised when I first removed the filter to clean the inside. Still, I would have preferred a more durable chrome. I lucked out in that my shotglass fit the inside diameter perfectly, so finding a tamper for the odd size wasn't a problem.
NO 3-WAY SOLENOID VALVE. I just unscrew the screen instead to clean once in a while.
ESPRESSO. I'm not experienced enough to compare the espresso with other machines, but what I get is very sweet, lots of crema. FYI, I use fresh roasted beans from a Hearthware Precision, and a Gaggia MDF grinder, which probably made the biggest difference.
STEAM. Steam wand is too short, and the steam weak, but I guess all machines this size are. The trick is use a correctly sized the pitcher (12oz, 1/3 to 1/2 filled works well for me), and to surf the steam temperature - I flush the steam wand until the heating light goes on, then start steaming right before the heating light goes off (about 15 seconds for my machine). This keeps the heating element on while you steam, letting you steam a little longer before you run out of gas. I get a good whirlpool during the texturing phase, nice thick microfoam, and am almost able to draw something recognizable. The steam lever takes getting used to, but it's actually very controllable - just move it between off and full on. I like it since you can instantly shut the steam off by releasing it, as apposed to turning the knob a few times. FYI, I have the 3 hole steam wand, I think some models have a pannarello frothing aid.
RELIABILITY. The head gasket is beginning to leak. This should have been replaced every year, but I'm having a little trouble finding the correct sized gasket. Otherwise, handled 2-4 espressos for 2 years straight with no problems.