Pros: Convenient, Consistent
Cons: Plasticky. Doesn't do espresso.
We're very serious about our coffee; not only do we have an uber-esoteric espresso machine and grinder, we roast our own and completely lack any sense of humor.
For the past year we've been drinking nothing but espresso, but this Christmas added a a vacuum siphon and a French press to create a stable of coffee makers. However, the espresso grinder -- a La Cimbali Max Hybrid -- doesn't do large changes in adjust at all well so we decided to get a grinder which can do medium grind for the vacuum pot and coarse grind for the French Press.
After a lot of research I narrowed the choices down to the Breville Smart, the Baratza Virtuoso, and the Kitchen Aid Pro Line.
We actually bought the Kitchen Aid -- largely based on the positive reviews posted on Coffee Geek. However, before opening the box I learned the Kitchen Aid had serious problems with its burrs; and exchanged it (a story in itself) for the Breville.
The machine exterior, hopper, and grind catcher are all plastic. While the visuals are done well, the overall, close-up impression is good but plasticky.
The hopper holds up to a pound of coffee. It is designed to be easily removable without losing any coffee. With the hopper out, the burrs are easily removed and cleaned.
Despite the fact that the catcher is plastic, there isn't any problem with static. The catcher comes with a seal so that grinds may be stored; however grinds start to stale within minutes of grinding so I can't recommend the practice.
The controls are easy to use, especially with the display.
Changing the grind setting is a matter of rotating the knob on the side, and the new grind setting will be displayed in the electronic window. There are 25 different pre-set grind settings ranging from very coarse to not quite fine enough for espresso. Although there's a bar which breaks the presets into three categories, they aren't actually numbered, so -- uncharacteristically for Breville -- the user must be able to count.
"3" does French press well, and "6" works for vacuum pot, at least for our stuff. I can't imagine grinding finer than "8" or "9" for any pour over, and have no idea what you'd do with the remaining 16 settings.
As I said the finer grind settings aren't fine enough for espresso -- at least not "real" espresso. I understand shims are available which allow the Smart to grind to actual espresso consistencies. Even so, I doubt it's a good espresso grinder. Breville advertises it as an espresso grinder but it not right for anything but the most primitive espresso machines -- the sort with double-walled baskets and automatic "crema" -- because, even if it's made to grind into the right fineness range, it lacks sufficient control over grind size within that range.
Getting back to what the grinder actually does: The coarser grinds are very consistent, in that there's very little variation in grind size in a given dose, from dose to dose, or at any given setting. If you set the machine at "6" for instance, you'll get the same grind every time every day. Returning to a setting after a re-set or two is equally consistent. You may not think so, but that's remarkable.
The motor runs slowly, the burrs and path remain cool, and the grinds are delivered without heat damage. Operation is relatively quiet. All very good.
The burrs are easy to clean and -- unlike the Kitchen Aid -- well made. They should last a long time. That said, the grinder is new to the market and hasn't developed much of track record.
The Smart can be set to grind a dose of specific size. I find its accuracy more than adequate in this respect, but the brewing methods I'm using the Smart to grind for don't require much precision.
On relatively short acquaintance, I like the Smart quite a bit. Although it's not as good looking as the Kitchen Aid, the burr set is much better; and while the Baratza Vario might be slightly better made, the Smart is significantly more convenient.
In the greater scheme of greater grinders the Smart isn't all that great. However, for our limited purposes, plastic aside, it's pretty near perfect. Too bad it doesn't look the Pro Line.
We like it.