Good first vac pot, provided you can use or stand to throw away the massive quantities it produces.
Positive Product Points
This (or at least *my*) machine makes great coffee. The built-in warmer is soooo nice for gathering with friends or Sunday mornings. Durable, practical for day-to-day use if you drink a lotta joe. Finishes a pot lightning fast. Requires no extensive skill or knowledge to use.
Negative Product Points
The product has a reputation for exceedingly high variation unit-to-unit. It's too big for one or two coffee drinkers!! I think the see-through workings (heater and cords) are reminiscent of a junior high science project.
With the exception of the Solis 166 (aka Barista) grinder, I think this may be the only piece of equipment Starbuck's has ever gotten right. On the balance I think the pros outweigh the cons as I'll explain.
First the good news. This is a vac pot for the masses, if there can be such a thing. If you've ever used an old Cory or something like it, you know why vacuum brewing fell out of favor in the middle of the past century - it's a pain-in-the-a$$. The results are so worth it, but who needs the ritual, not to mention imploded glass vessels, brew that never 'goes south', wire gizmos to place on electric burners... the list goes on. Well, no engineering degree is required to use this machine.
Out of the box, the machine is intuitive. First thing you'll notice is that it's constructed of rugged plastic, a huge bonus you'll appreciate if you've ever broken a glass vac pot. There is only one way to put it together, and the controls are simple. Hit the button, and she comes to life, with sounds that resemble a jet engine. The water makes its trip 'north' rapidly, and the agitation is aggressive (though I still give it a stir to engage all the grinds). After 90-120 seconds north, the heater cuts out and the trip 'south' occurs rapidly, too. Pop the basket off and place it on the fold-out stand (how clever!), and you're ready to serve. There's even a little indicator lamp to tell you it's being kept warm.
The cons can be found, of course. One with which I have no first-hand experience relates to the consistency between different units. The most prevalent complaint I've noted is that the time the brew spends 'north' is much too short, almost momentary. Mine is fine, but buyer beware.
The second big drawback may be its size. I reserve the Utopia for use with four or more coffee drinkers. Like most machines, coffee or otherwise, it does its best work at about 80-100% capacity. Less than six cups is likely to disappoint, and the recommended four-cup minimum is sure to. Other issues are common to most vac pots, the most noteworthy being that they are more difficult to clean than other methods. One matter of personal taste is the 'see-through' heater and electrical cord - I think it would look better with these things hidden.
All in all, this has been a fine machine for me and eliminates the need for a drip maker.
A friend who is a Starbucks employee used his discount and had it drop shipped to me - no problems.
Three Month Followup
Well, it's been three months since my original review, and I still like the Utopia. A lot. Since then, I've had occassion to use the timer feature and it worked flawlessly. I do wish the little buttons were larger and better labeled, but this is a minor inconvenience. Word on the street is that there will soon be a 5-cupper version of the Utopia; look for it in stores everywhere (well, OK, not everywhere, but maybe at *$ and a few places online). I'll definitely be buying the baby Utopia!
One Year Followup
A few follow-on points after a year of ownership:
I use the timer feature a few times per year, and its use is not intuitive - I have to retrain myself from the manual each time.
DO NOT USE OXY-CLEAN TO CLEAN IT! I did, and it cracked the plastic base. Same thing has happened to other users. In fairness to Bodum, if I RTFM it may have given a warning, but I use Oxy on lots of coffee gear. Just don't do it! Starbucks customer service is to be commended however, as they replaced it even knowing how I had damaged it.
I still recommend the eSantos (Utopia) as the vac pot for the masses.