Welcome Cyberfire, you found the right place to learn about smoking great Q!
The 40" MES is extremely popular, the reason is it produces great results, that even a newbie pitmaster can be proud of. One thought, its a great cook not the cooker that consistently make great food, so not only are you on a quest for the right tool, you also are on a learning adventure, and your success will show on the faces of those who eat your food.
Personally I like to recommend two smokers, if your considering electric then the MES 40" is huge bang for buck, and good either smoking for your family or for a big party of 50.
The other smoker I always recommend is the Weber Smokey Mountain 22" model, the proof that this smoker is a winner is the simple fact that many competition BBQ teams use the WSM. KCBS BBQ team of the year for 2009 won using WSM smokers.
Both the MES and WSM are proven smoking cookers, for quick and easy the MES, for more variety in usage and the ability to be used anywhere the WSM.
I chose the MES when I was looking 3 years ago, because I wanted simple quick and didn't want to do any tending, at that time I had very little down time and our Sunday family dinners was BBQ day 3/4 of the year, plus we do 3 or 4 30-40 people parties a year, I have never regretted that buying decision. If I was to buy today, I would go with the WSM only because I would like do some other things like using it to make pizza, and I would like to go to a couple of local BBQ competitions (you can't use electric in competitions). But I have to say, I really like not having to worry about fuel or dumping or dealing with spent briquette/ask etc.
No the MES chip loader is not automatic, you have to load chips every 30-60 minutes, however you can buy a AMNS which can generate smoke for up to 8 hours, solving the auto feed dilemma.
No electric smokers do not produce a smoke ring, the ring is nitrogen gas released by the wood exposed to very high combustion temps to form nitrous oxide (NO2) which then reacts with pigments in the meat. Fortunately the smoke ring has nothing to do with smoke flavor / taste, electrics smokers are capable of delivering great tasting Q, that any BBQ cook would be proud of.
Beginners buy electrics, and the fact that the MES has expanded its sales so much is that beginners are cooking great Q, and telling their friends.