I figure that I'll start out with discussing a few of the things I really like about the machine, before I turn to a few things that I think could be improved.
Warm Up Time
My prior E61 machine took nearly an hour to fully warm up. If you leave your machine on 24/7 this may not be an issue for you, but I generally turn it on in the morning and off a little after lunch. Occasionally I find myself turning it on at other times - e.g., when a friend stops by and I want to be able to offer them a drink. With the E61 I had to set it on a timer to ensure it was ready in the morning. The Linea Mini is a huge improvement in this regard as it is ready in about a half to a third of the time. I timed it this morning starting up from cold and the brew indicator light was ready after 9 minutes. The portafilter was not fully hot so it clearly needed more time, but after a total of 15 minutes it seemed sufficiently warm. When switched on I believe the machine first heats the brew boiler and once the indicator light comes on it switches over to heating up the steam boiler, when it does this you can hear the hissing of the vacuum breaker valve and once that closes the steam boiler quickly gets up to pressure. Overall, even being on the conservative side the machine is ready to brew and steam within 20 minutes.
For a commercial grade machine of this size and output this is a pretty remarkable accomplishment by LM in my view. I suspect the quick heat up time is due to the small brew boiler design (175 ml). But despite the small size the machine has impressive temp stability, as evidenced by HB's own testing, and quick recovery. It performs like a commercial machine but meets the needs of the home user with a quick start time.
I realize these newer LM portafilters have been out a little while now, but this is my first experience with them. The rubber handle is very comfortable and fits my hand great. The handle also seems a little longer making it easier to get sufficient torque when installing it in the group. The spouted version, which comes supplied with the machine, has the removable spouts with a single and a double. This is supposed to make cleaning easier, but the downside is that you don't want to tamp with pressure on the spouts. LM has therefore added a flat spot to the 10-2 o'clock position to allow the PF to be placed on a countertop edge for tamping. The spouted PFs also accept up to a 21g (triple) basket due to the deep design. Finally, and best of all the PFs are made from solid stainless steel. This has two benefits - first, it is supposed to improve thermal retention once they are fully heated, and second, it makes them much easier to clean. Chrome plated brass PFs can get nasty and difficult to clean once the chrome plating wears off and exposes the brass.
Okay, I realize there has been a ton of critical commentary about this. In his CG review
Mark Prince disparagingly refers to it as a "faux-paddle" and in another HB thread
people questioned it as well. The complaint seems to be that the existence of a paddle implies that the user has some sort of control over preinfusion, which admittedly they do not with the Mini as it has automatic built in preinfusion (one second on and one second off). So, yes, the paddle on the Mini is just a large on/off switch. So what? LM had to use some kind of on/off switch and the alternatives were either a button or a rocker switch. To me the paddle is a big improvement over both of those. It's easier to find when you are busy doing other things, such as steaming milk or preparing the next shot. The tactile feel is great - very smooth and solid. Overall it fits in well with the analog approach LM took with this machine. The feedback from baristas in the field is that they like the paddle, so why wouldn't they use it as an on/off switch. And is a GS3 paddle "faux" because it controls only line level preinfusion and not progressive preinfusion? The whole debate just seems silly to me. Yes, it just an on/off switch and if you can't come to terms with that or want more variables to control then don't buy this machine. In the end what really matters is the taste in the cup and so far I have no complaints whatsoever when it comes to shot quality.
Drip Tray and Reservoir
The drip tray and reservoir are both really well thought out. The drip tray is quite large. I measured the capacity at about 2 liters. It is made of a thick plastic with rounded edges on the inside to make cleaning it easier. The outside is covered with a stainless panel to match the color of the machine. The tray has two innovations. First, there is a protrusion that sticks up from the bottom that allows you to visually see how close it is to its capacity. When the protrusion is covered, it's full. Second, it has magnets on the bottom of the tray secure it to a depression on the rails and preventing shifting and rattling. It's a very solid design. The reservoir is horizontally situated and located behind the drip tray. It slides out from underneath the machine when the drip tray is removed. A small plastic panel is removed to allow refilling. The nice thing about this placement is that it means that cabinet height above the machine is not as much of an issue. Most machine's reservoirs are filled from above which can be very challenging if you have it under kitchen cabinets. This means that no real estate on the top of the machine needs to be devoted to reservoir access, providing for a larger cup warming area and no need to remove cups when refilling. It also means the water in the reservoir does not get heated up as much, which minimizes slimy stuff growing in it.
How did I ever live without these? When you pull a shot two LED lights underneath the grouphead housing and above the drip tray illuminate the portafilter and cup. Even in a dim room it makes it very easy to see the pour, monitor the shot volume, and look for blonding. A really nice feature.