Pros: A nice-looking, well-functioning super automatic (all-in-one) espresso machine.
Cons: A bit pricey, and the built-in grinder is somewhat loud.
I have had my DeLonghi Model ESAM3500.N Magnifica super automatic espresso maker for three weeks now, and am satisfied with its performance. This model supersedes the discontinued EAM3500.N model; the "S" stands for "stainless," which is a bit of a stretch, since most of the ESAM is silver plastic. But since there is also some metal, which does appear to be stainless steel, a "stainless" moniker has a basis. This product does look good on my kitchen counter, there's no denying that.
Further, the espressos are up to the quality I can get using my La Pavoni PC-16 manual lever espresso machine, and the ESAM3500.N has a learning curve that's a snap by comparison. It took me six months to master my La Pavoni, and that was only after investing in a Masser Mini Professional burr grinder. So, during the day, at work, I keep wired using my La Pavoni. At home, in the mornings and evenings, the DeLonghi provides my caffeine fixes.
My primary reason for trying a super automatic machine was the savings in counter space compared to a La Pavoni and a separate coffee grinder. But I have to admit that the convenience of the DeLonghi is sure nice: just push the "on" button and then the espresso button and 30-seconds later you have excellent espresso waiting to be enjoyed. No tamping of carefully ground coffee into a portafilter and pulling a shot, as required for a manual lever machine (and then cleaning the group). The burn risk for this "enclosed" machine is also much lower than for my La Pavoni, with its multiple hot surfaces. If you have children in the house this would be a factor in favor of a super automatic machine.
While the DeLonghi offers a programmable automatic start function, the cold-start warm-up time is only about one minute, so I haven't found the need to use this feature.
The initial programming was easy, and except for the grinder setting, I found that the default factory settings work fine. The temperature, and both water and milk quantities, can be customized if you wish.
The DeLonghi ESAM3500.N isn't cheap; I got mine for $1,349, including shipping, from WebStores of America, which was about $150 under the going rate. The unit comes with a two-year manufacture's warranty, and given the complexity of a super automatic I did something I don't usually do: I took out an extended warranty, providing an additional three years of coverage beyond the manufacturer's warranty. That extended warranty was also purchased through Web Stores of America, and is provided by Warrentech.
You can download the instruction manual at http://www.delonghi-csservice.com/pdf/ESAM3500Manual.pdf. Plus, the ESAM comes with an excellent DVD instructional video, although you'll still want to read the manual, which provides additional information not in the DVD.
I had to adjust the built-in burr grinder for finer grinding than the mid-range setting used by the factory, but after doing that I now get espressos that are just as good as those I have finally learned to obtain from my La Pavoni manual lever machine.
I have also tried the milk frothing system, which worked fine; it's just that I prefer straight espressos to lattes or cappuccinos.
I give DeLonghi an "A" for the ease of clean up. Emptying the grounds container and the drip tray are a snap. Cleaning the infuser is also not difficult. The coffee bean hopper and water reservoir are sufficient for my needs. I even tried the ground coffee bypass mode, but my normal use is the automatically-grind-just-the-number-of-beans-needed mode. As noted by others in their reviews, the coffee grinder is LOUD when it's on, which fortunately isn't for very long because of the grind-only-what-is-needed feature. This is good, because the grinder noise scared my cats when they heard it for the first time. And because of the grinder noise there will be no sneaking a late-night espresso or latte if you use the grinder. If you want to do things quietly, use the pre-ground coffee bypass mode.
A warning about using the "pre-ground coffee" mode, though: while the owner's manual cautions to never add pre-ground coffee while the machine is off (because it won't sense the addition of that coffee), even after placing the machine in the "pre-ground" coffee mode you still need to wait for the "add pre-ground coffee" prompt by the digital readout; otherwise, it turns out that it's the same as adding pre-ground coffee while the machine is off. If you make this mistake, the coffee ends up on the bottom of the machine, below the infuser, and as suggested by the ESAM instruction manual you'll have to vacuum it out (not all that difficult to do, but better to avoid the internally-spilled coffee problem from the get-go). So not only must you only add pre-ground coffee while the machine is on, the DeLonghi must not be in its warm-up mode, because it won't recognize the coffee addition while warming up. Neither the DVD video nor the instruction manual warn you about this, so remember that you read it here first.
Also: never attempt to pick up the cappuccino or latte milk container up by its black plastic top; instead, use the black plastic handle. If you make this mistake, you will find out that 1) spilled milk is a pain to clean up, 2) but if you have cats they will help, after their initial startle; and 3) the DeLonghi milk container is fortunately made out of a very heavy-duty, impact-resistant plastic.
A digital wattmeter shows that the specified power consumption of 1,350 watts is correct, although the unit only draws that amount of power part of the time. The standby mode and off mode both consume a mere 1 watt. The two-prong, polarized line cord is quite short, at 3.5 feet, so either have an outlet close by, or plan on investing in a heavy-duty extension cord. DeLonghi's justification for such a short line cord is "to reduce risks from becoming entangled in or tripping over a longer cord." It is indeed heartwarming for DeLonghi to have such concern for the safety and welfare of persons purchasing this product, while at the same time (and quite incidentally, I am sure) saving the higher cost of a "dangerous" 6-foot long power cord.
There is an automatic descaling mode, with the descaling intervals a function of the water hardness. You use a provided water test strip to determine the hardness of your water, and then program that value into the machine; the range is from "1" (least hard) to "4" (calcium deposits form in your throat as you drink your water). The programmed-in hardness value then determines how often the ESAM says it's time for a descaling cycle. You will need a 4.2-ounce bottler of Durgol liquid decalcifier for a descaling cycle. The ESAM comes with one such complimentary bottle.
You only get one water hardness test strip, so use it carefully. Since I already knew that my water is hard, I decided from the get-go to use only distilled water, and so set the water hardness digital setting to its least-hard setting.
The registration URL given in the instruction manual is obsolete; you instead register by going to the DeLonghi web site, and clicking on the top-page registration link. In the paperwork that came with my ESAM there was an offer for a two-year DeLonghi extended warranty, but at $150 I think that it's a sucker bet, and that you can do better with the Warrentech extended warranty.
UPDATE #1: April 9, 2008. After more than a month of use my DeLonghi ESAM3500.N super automatic espresso maker is working great. My reason for this update is to report no answer from the DeLonghi customer service department to an e-mail plus a follow-up that I sent them about water hardness issues. All you get from them is an el toro doo doo automated reply about how "important" your query is and that they will reply "as soon as possible." It makes me wonder what would happen if I ever needed the DeLonghi "white glove" warranty service, supposedly only available to ESAM customers. So it appears that the posts I had seen regarding the unresponsiveness of the DeLonghi customer service department were valid. How short sighted of DeLonghi USA. It's still an excellent product, and I wouldn't be so annoyed if DeLonghi had the honesty to simply say "get lost" instead of sending a phony "your request is important to us" message. At least I will get satisfaction from every read of this update, knowing that others will learn about the useless nature (in my case, at least) of the DeLonghi "customer service" department. Because this rating is on the product and not the company, I am not downgrading my five-star "excellent" rating.
UPDATE #2: September 27, 2008. I have now had my DeLonghi Model ESAM3500 for slightly over nine months. It has gotten lots of use, and continues to perform flawlessly. Yesterday I had to do my first descaling cycle. It went fine except for the rinse cycle, where the container I placed under the cleaning-cycle water discharge spigot fell off the drip tray as it filled with water. I was there when it happened, so it wasn't all that difficult of a clean up. But, be sure to properly support whatever container you use during the descaling cycle, so if the center-of-gravity shifts as it fills, it won't spill. Oh, and the DeLonghi "white glove" customer service folks never did return any of my emails; all I got were their big-lie and annoying "your email is important to us and well will respond shortly" emails.
UPDATE #3: July 2010. I finally had to have my first DeLonghi ESAM3500 serviced (I ended up selling my La Pavoni and buying a second ESAM3500 for use at my office); it was fortunately still within the 2-year warranty, although getting close to the end of the warranty. This time I tried calling the DeLonghi "white glove" 866 number rather than sending an e-mail; what a difference. I immediately got a human being on the line. Further, they promptly sent out a new shipping box by FedEx, with a prepaid FexEx label to the nearest service center (in San Jose, about 100 miles south of Sonoma). The service center promptly fixed the problem (cappucinos no longer as frothy as they used to be; turned out that I needed a new "coupler" unit), and I had my DeLonghi back in about ten days. So, well done to DeLonghi, but why they have a "white glove" service e-mail that they ignore is a mystery. So use the 866/528-8323 "white glove" service number instead.