Hunting for a new grinder to replace the Champion flour mill I've been putting to double duty. Ascaso iMini looks nice, not too large for the kitchen. Reviews I read on CoffeeGeek seemed reasonable. Nobody seemed to stock them locally, so bought online. Couldn't find a specific detailed photo review prior to buying, so thought I'd post this.
The hopper is well moulded in what seems to me to be polycarbonate. (I think there is a way to tell exactly what type of plastic that involves shaving a bit off and melting/burning it, but I'm not up for that.) Hopper is an interference fit in the top burr carrier.
A single screw at the rear holds the lid on. There is no mechanical attachment at all at the front of the top cover, save for the hopper holding it on. The original screw is a standard cheap zinc plated steel self tapping pan head. I changed mine to stainless steel 8 gauge which seemed to have the same thread pitch. Stainless is a better color match for the polished aluminum.
The top burr housing has 72 teeth. The 32 holes just inside the teeth are used by other manufacturers as click stop settings. One full turn of the grind adjustment knob turns the housing 5 degrees (one tooth).
With the lid off, the pile of grounds which doesn't come out is easily visible sitting on the plastic ramp. The ramp is in two parts. The inside part is part of the grinding chamber housing. The outside part is a separate piece clamped on by the housing. The foam surround seals with the top housing and stops grounds getting inside the casing where the motor lives. (PS the foam should probably be bigger, because you can see some grounds on the right side of the photo that are inside and you can see the gap where there is no foam seal at the lower half of the grind chamber port.)
The worm screw mounting frame has to be removed to undo the top burr. (Well I suppose it could be removed with a lot of turns of the worm adjustment knob - approx 600 turns.) Two fine threaded machine screws attach it to metal nuts in the grinding chamber base plate. The worm screw frame can't be fully removed without loosening the entire grinding chamber base plate (4 self tappers into the aluminum case), but you don't have to remove it completely to undo the top burr housing. The self tappers are not impressive, because repetitive use tends to strip out the holes. (Always be very careful to turn self tappers backwards when reinserting them to get them to drop into the original grooves. Even then sometimes they try to make their own new groove if they are even a little crooked - if they bind up, start over. After a few bad attempts of screwing self tappers into aluminum, they could easily strip out.) Note the gap between the plastic housing and the brass worm screw - it translates to about a quarter turn of slack when using the grind adjustment knob.
Burrs look beautifully machined. Double portafilter basket fills in about 15 seconds.
The grinding chamber being flat tends to hold a lot of grinds. (I'm tempted to experiment with building new grind sweeping vanes and reducing the space under the conical burr to reduce grind retention, but it might result in coffee flying out rather quickly.) I'm curious that flat burr grinders seem to have a depression in the middle of the bottom fixed burr which might also tend to accumulate some stale grinds.
Coffee grinds compact on the left side of the chute. They can be easily dislodged with a stick or brush. Bamboo skewers are good.
I was tempted to try to get rid of the free play in the grind adjustment knob with a washer, but not sure I could safely get the shaft out of the brass worm screw without destroying the frame. So for now, I have a few winds of teflon tape to pack the gap and I tied a knot between the ends so it wouldn't unravel. Still have maybe 5-10 degrees of slack in the knob, but that's better than the quarter turn it used to be. Because the top burr housing plastic threads are a little rough, the thread tends to bind a little and there is flex in the plastic worm screw housing when adjusting. I expect this will settle over time as the threads wear in and loosen up. Not worth trying any food grade lubricant (eg medicinal paraffin or castor oil), as it would just make the coffee grinds clag up in the threads more.
Under the grinding chamber baseplate is the motor and reduction gear inside cast aluminum housing. The bottom conical burr is immovable on its shaft by hand and seems to have no detectable gearbox backlash or shaft play. There is a slight electrical motor smell during/after grinding.
The manual page refers to i-2mini. But the machine says i-3 underneath, and 140W (manual says 170).
I would like to see some modifications to the i-Mini to improve functionality and build quality:
* sloped internal floor on grind chamber and redesigned vanes and chute to minimise grind retention/buildup
* machine thread inserts on the aluminum housing in preference to self-tappers
* graduations around the inside of the hole in the top housing for reference as to burr position (the stiffeners in the hopper make good pointers already and because the hopper is an interference fit, you can point the stiffeners in a convenient position)
* lugs on main housing and top housing to hold down the front of the top housing
* metal rather than chrome plated plastic motor button (which others have reported wears through over time - I'm using my thumb on it for now)
[added] * a little crank wheel instead of a knob would make large adjustments more feasible.
Some of these modifications could be made at home by those with an engineering bent.
The only other major competition at a similar price point seems to me to be the KitchenAid burr grinder. I much prefer the minimalist modern styling of the i-Mini. Beyond the i-Mini are the seriously large semi-pro grinders that cost nearly twice as much. Overall, I'm still a happy i-Mini owner.
[added] other competition - Le'Lit PL53, Nemox Lux. The burr set and worm drive appear identical to the Ascaso I-2 conical as seen in review http://coffeegeek.com/proreviews/detailed/innovagrinder