I've owned at least five waffle makers, not counting this one, maybe more. Which is crazy, considering that I don't make a lot of waffles. But hey, when I want waffles, I want good waffles.
My first waffle maker bit the dust when the non-stick coating flaked off. Another simply stopped working. But my major disappointment with all of them was the uneven cooking and spotty browning. I could do better with frozen waffles and a toaster.
The Breville Smart Waffle Maker ($199-$249) is the first waffle maker I've owned that can cook waffles evenly, from edge to edge and corner to corner and top to bottom. And to make it even easier, it has settings to control the lightness or darkness of the waffles, so there's no need to keep opening the waffle maker to see if they're done.
If you happen to choose a setting that's too light, there's a button for "a bit more" to cook just a short time longer, but if you use the same recipe (or mix) on a regular basis, it's easy enough to figure out what setting you need.
A large moat surrounds the waffle-cooking area to catch any overflow. It's big enough that you'd have to vastly overfill the waffles to overflow the moat. But, to make things simple, each waffle uses a half-cup of batter, so portioning is easy.
I tried the waffle maker with a range of boxed (Krusteaz) and homemade waffles and every batch was evenly browned and came out of the waffle maker with no sticking and very little cleanup. I cooked single waffles, pairs, and all four, and the browning was always consistent.
The messiest thing I cooked was a grilled cheese sandwich. It sounded like a good idea, but in reality, a lot of the cheese oozed out of the sandwich, so the cheese-to-bread ratio was a little thin on cheese. But, I scooped the melted cheese out of the waffle-moat and had a little snack. So it wasn't a complete waste.
The grilled cheese experiment was more about testing cleanup than making an amazing lunch, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. The cheese didn't stick to the surface at all, so I just needed to mop up some grease and get rid of a few errant bread crumbs.
The downside of this unit is that the waffle plates aren't removable for cleaning, but perhaps that's the trade-off for even browning. Unless you're cooking crazy stuff in the waffle maker like grilled cheese sandwiches and absurd Will it Waffle creations, there's not much to clean up to worry about.
While the price is on the high end of the scale, this waffle maker is built like a piece of serious machinery and should last many, many years. If I had bought this instead of that first waffle maker—and all the subsequent ones—I would have spent far less overall. As far as reliability, I have a Breville sandwich press that I've owned for 15+ years, and it's still going strong.
Disclaimer: Testing samples were provided to Serious Eats.