Ok, so Costco has a DeLonghi fully automatic machine for $700 after coupon (
) and I'm new to the game. Automatic seems like a safe choice (have to keep the wife happy too...) but perhaps a combination of a grinder with a manual/pod system would be the way to go.
Not to mention DeLonghi/Costco may be a sure road to grief - I have no idea of its quality or if its metal this, or plastic that are good, bad or ugly…
If fully auto at this price is a waste of money, I’m looking for something that could both be quick easy during the week (pod?) yet I could also experiment/play and learn on the weekend.
Most of the users here would probably frown on super automatics. I've personally never tasted coffee from one, so I can't comment.
The question you seem to be wrestling with is the same question we've all had to wrestle with when buying a machine. Simply put, the question is this, "How much is a great cup of coffee worth to me in terms of money and effort?". For the vast majority of coffee drinkers, it's not worth either, so they just head to the local coffee shop it's not worth either, so they settle for stale coffee brewed poorly at a chain store (Mc Donald's, Tim's, etc...). Others will decide it's worth it to spend a little more for a quality cup of coffee, and will go to a specialty coffee shop (Starbuck's, Second Cup). Still others will seek out a local artisan coffee shop that really takes each cup seriously (Artigiano, J.J. Bean, if you live in Vancouver).
A few users are not satisified with these offerings and would prefer to brew their own. Some don't mind spending the money, but don't want the effort, so they buy a Super-Auto. The concept behind a Super-Auto is great. Put in the beans, add water, push a button, and let the machine deal with the details. On the plus side, Super Auto's are convenient and consistent. You shouldn't notice much difference between one cup and another.
Semi-Auto's, which most users here seem to have, are a little more work. They can be a little finicky, and they largely rely on you to provide the consistency. The payoff is that once you've learned the quirks and idiosyncrasies of your machine, it will reward you with much better coffee. And once you've mastered the technique, it really doesn't take that much longer to brew a much better cup.
The fact that you're even open to the idea of a semi-auto, tells me that that's probably a better route for you.
Here's what I'd suggest. For the same price as the machine you've scoped-out. Get a great grinder (Rancilio Rocky, Le'Lit PL53, or a Baratza Virtuoso at the very least). Then spend the remainder of your budget on a machine capable of using pods, and a good tamper.
Start with pods on weekdays, and practice your barista technique on the weekends. Once you've mastered the technique, it shouldn't take you more than a minute to grind, dose, and tamp your beans. After a few weeks, you'll be ready to move to whole beans during the week too.
As you practice, you'll be able to brew shots with the consistency of a Super Automatic, or a Pod machine, but the coffee will be way better. All your practice and the extra effort will be well worth it.