I have the original model, the Personal Die-Cutter, though most of the review applies to all three systems: The Personal, the Sidekick, and the BigKick. However, for anyone that will really be putting their machine to a lot of use, I recommend either the Personal or the BigKick — the Sidekick is a little more awkward to use, wobbles a bit, and won't take the larger dies.
First off, if you have a die-cut machine, and a Xyron, you are next to invincible when it comes to card-making and scrapbooking. No more buying someone else's die-cuts at 3-5 dollars a pop. The only money is in paper (cheap) and dies, which are not so cheap but usable over and over. Embossing dies are also available, greatly expanding your range of embellishments for pages.
It only takes a tiny bit of paper folding to go from a single die-cut to amazing borders and frames. An accordian fold of light-weight paper (this does not work with heavier cardstock), slightly smaller than your die, will create a connected border of the image. A snowflake fold (remember making paper snowflakes? Same fold), also slightly smaller than your die, will create wonderful frames of repeating images.
"But die-cut machines only make single color embellishments!" Actually, no. Every die has little score lines on it, marking places where different colours can be added for both colour, texture, and dimension. Simply cut a variety of paper, carefully cut along the score lines, and you get multi-coloured embellishments with a lot of pop. Holes in a die can have paper placed behind them, or just use the negative space created.
"But I like the dies from other brands, could I use them?" For the most part, YES! I've only tested the Cuttlebug dies so far, but they worked BEAUTIFULLY in my Sizzix. When you add in just those two brands, your range of die-cuts expands exponentially, and both brands have die-cuts, embossing dies, and texture plates. YES, texture plates! Texturize an entire section of paper with a single run through the machine, without spending hours embossing the pattern by hand.
Specific Product Review
I've heard that the Sizzix can be a little rough on weak or arthritic hands. It -can- be a bit difficult, but the key to using the machine is leverage, not hand strength. So long as you have it on a proper table, your body does most of the work for you. Note: The Cuttlebug dies I tried were actually much easier to use in the machine, and took a lot less pressure to make the cuts.
The only thing I dislike (caveat, it's not really a dislike, just a minor aggravation) is that you have to cut your paper down to fit inside the machine. Granted, if you cut the paper just enough to barely fit inside, and you're using the Sizzlits or equivalent size die, you can get multiple cuts from the same piece, just by adjusting how the dies fit.
You do need to practice with it, to learn just how much pressure is required for each individual die (some are a little slower to cut all the way through, but a second pass through the machine in the opposite direction usually fixes that), and the best positioning underneath the pressure plate. Larger dies will require a further push under the plate to get all of the die.
The Converter module is a necessity: it allows you to use the Sizzlits-size dies without use of multiple shims to make the die meet the pressure surface. There are adaptors available to use the Sizzlits, but they're less convenient, the Converter is definitely the way to go, and much steadier. You don't have to adjust the fit of the Converter, like you do the adaptors, and you don't have to readjust every time you slide the die through.
Dies range from the cheap, to the very expensive, though the expensive sets are all alphabets.
-Some of those alphabets are well worth the money, providing not just the letters, but blocks with negative space letters or shadow letters, full numbers, and punctuation. Got kids in school? Great for science fair projects, and other displays.
-Among the dies are 'build your own' paperdolls. You can buy a die with a basic body, dies for hair, dies for accessories, and dies for multiple clothing sets. Perfect to amuse kids, or make custom figures to put in a scrapbook.
-There is a wide assortment of seasonal dies for use in projects, and many remain usable the rest of the year — it's all in how you use them.
-Add in the Cuttlebug dies, and you've got an endless variety of dies for any use you may have.
The cutting pad is removable, not fixed, so you can make a "Sizzix sandwich" and layer your paper, die, and pad, then run it through the machine so that it cuts exactly where you want it to without slipping. When the pad starts to wear out, you can just turn it over and go till that side is too worn. Further paper shims can be used to keep the cutting pad up near the pressure plate, extending the life of the pad and decreasing the number of replacements you need to buy.
I won't say that I specifically recommend the Sizzix above other die-cut machines, though for ease of use, and cost compared to the higher end newer models, it's definitely worth the money if you want to customize your projects and make your own embellishments.
It gets an A from the Pooka.