Onkyo TW317 Slate Review

Posted on 17 May 2011, Last updated on 25 April 2019 by

Onkyo TW317

The Onkyo TW317 [tracking page] is a rare breed of soon-to-be-extinct computer known as a capacative touchscreen Windows 7 slate inch. What this means is that the TW317 lacks a real keyboard or mouse. Unlike some other slates which add accurate handwriting and mouse-hovering abilities with an active digitizer — which supplement the removal of the keyboard/mouse —  the TW317 relies completely on its capacative touchscreen for finger-based input.

To put this into perspective, may I ask you if you’d like to purchase a car from me? I’ll give you a great deal, but there’s some caveats… the car doesn’t have a steering wheel or tries. Did I mention that you can find other, more powerful, versatile, and usable cars on the market for less?

Here’s what you need to understand before reading any further: removing the keyboard and mouse from a Windows computer, and not adding an active digitizer, makes it fundamentally harder to be productive (or to just use the computer for anything, really). While the parts of the computer itself may be perfectly well made and put together, you will run into annoying situations (frequently) where your controls on this computer are not conducive to what you actually want to accomplish. For further reading on this, see here.

In fact, you’ll find that some of the limitations of a mouseless and keyboardless Windows computer nearly prevented me from bringing you a large portion of this review…

With that fresh in your mind, let’s begin.

Tour

Here’s a quick look around the hardware as well as the specs:

Onkyo TW317

IMG_3710

IMG_3715

And that’s really all there is to it. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s a full spec breakdown:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 10.1 inch capacitive touchscreen @ 1366×768 (16:9)
  • Intel Atom N450 CPU @ 1.66GHz
  • 1GB of RAM
  • Intel 3150 graphics
  • 32GB SSD
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • 0.3MP front-facing camera
  • 1000gm

Hardware

Onkyo TW317

The Onkyo TW317 is actually quite impressive when it comes to hardware. Considering that we’ve got x86 internals inside the casing, Onkyo did a superb job at keeping it thin. The TW317 is only slightly thicker than many of the mobile-OS slates currently on the market.

Onkyo TW317

There’s a small fan inside, but it runs quietly most of the time and vents out the top of the device which is good because your hands won’t usually be covering the port, and the heat won’t be venting directly into your lap. Though the back does get hot after continuous use.

When you pull the TW317 out of the box, you know it’s a well-built product. You can feel it all the way around. Shake the device and what do you hear? Nothing. It’s almost as if there are no moving parts (there are probably very few beside the fan).

Design

Onkyo TW317

As a slate, there isn’t a lot you can do to make the device aesthetically interesting beyond the choice of casing material, but they at least attempted to keep the TW317 from being totally bland.

The glass on the front of the device extends over the bezel which keeps everything on the front on one plane (this is good). There isn’t much to look at on the front except a simple Intel Atom sicker. The black bezel is about 3/4 inch on the left, right, and top of the screen, while it’s more like 1 inch below the screen. Though a wide bezel is usually an undesirable trait, when it comes to slates, it’s necessary to be able to hold the device without accidentally pressing the screen.

The corners of the screen are square while the corners of the device itself are round. This creates an unsatisfying aesthetic that could have probably been avoided by making the corners of the device tighter, and then moving the corner of the screen to be aligned horizontally and vertically with the beginning of the curve of the device’s corner.

That being said, the TW317 is quite heavy and it’s also quite a bit longer than it is tall because of the 16:9 shape of the screen. This means that you’ll have a lot of leverage working against your wrist if you attempt to hold it in one hand from the side in landscape mode. Holding it in the center (using the large bezel space below the screen with your thumb) works pretty well, but only being able to use the slate with one hand really limits your ability to input text (which is already limited because the on-screen keyboard is not nearly as fast/responsive as a real keyboard, or other mobile OS OSKs {iOS, Android, etc}).

IMG_3709

The back of the device is a rubberized plastic, a material that I tend to like as it won’t scratch easily like aluminum. There’s also a curved line toward the top of the back to make it a bit less boring. There’s almost no flex of the back, even in the center where support is usually the worst. This again attests to the device’s great build-quality.

The back rounds into the front which makes it easier to pick up with one hand than if it were completely flat. On certain surfaces like my desk, however, it’s almost impossible to pick the TW317 up with one hand from the top or bottom, as the static friction is overcome before you can apply enough force to get your fingers underneath the device. Grabbing from the right side of the device, or going for one of the port openings (the left side or bottom dock connector), makes it possible to pick up with one hand because it’s easier to get underneath.

The bezel hangs closely over the USB ports on the right side of the TW137, so if you have any particularly bulky USB plugs, don’t anticipate being able to plug them in without an extension/hub. For instance, the LG LV600 4G USB modem would never fit.

Screen

IMG_3698

The TW317’s 10.1 inch capacitive touchscreen has a 16:9 resolution of 1366×768. The 16:9 ratio makes the tablet wider than it is tall which isn’t preferable with a slate as the center of gravity is further from the edges and there is potential for extra leverage on your hand. This means that holding sessions will become tiresome after short periods, and holding it above you while lying down is pretty much impractical as you’d need to put your palm over much of the screen in order to get enough support to resist the weight of the device.

The viewing angles are poor and you’ll see brightness reduce greatly at 20 degrees or so, with colors beginning to invert around +/- 45 degrees (in this case, looking directly at the screen is 0 degrees). Because the device is heavy, and is used most effectively with two hands, you’ll be prompted to set it in your lap. Unfortunately the viewing angles don’t jive with this as you will rarely be looking directly down at the tablet in your lap (otherwise you’ll be risking serious neck strain).

Tapping items on the screen is definitely a bit easier and more consistent than devices from the resistive-screen era, but if you are imagining the responsive and accurate touch input that we’ve become accustomed to with modern smartphones, don’t get your hopes up. You’re likely to experience a lot of frustrating near-misses when attempting to navigate around the OS. Grabbing windows to resize them, in particular, is a major pain.

One issue with the screen I found was that tapping in the very bottom-right corner was difficult at times. This could be a calibration or hardware issue.

Speakers

The stereo speakers on the bottom of the device actually weren’t as bad as I was expecting. They are completely lacking bass which isn’t unexpected, but they sound much less tinny than I was anticipating.

Software

win 7 logo

If you’d like a good laugh, you should absolutely head to this page and watch the brief “Windows Touch inch video from Microsoft. The irony (and awful acting) contained within couldn’t be more hilarious. To be fair, they are talking about using a device that actually has a keyboard and mouse, most of the blame here should be placed on Onkyo and any other capacitive touchscreen slate manufacturer that thinks that keyboard and mouseless slates running Windows 7 are a good idea.

Remember how I was telling you at the beginning of this review that you’ll run into issues operating a Windows slate because it lacks a keyboard and mouse? Well it turns out that I’m currently experiencing this, and it nearly inhibited my ability to bring you much of this review.

It turns out that the BIOS has rudimentary cursor support with the touchscreen, which I wasn’t actually expecting. However, portions of the BIOS/pre-boot environment do not have any touchscreen support, which means that if you don’t have a USB keyboard on you, you won’t be able to use your computer. And as it turns out, I didn’t have a USB keyboard on me, so the Onkyo TW317 was an unusable paper-weight for quite some time. Fortunately I’ve managed to get one and was able to break out of the BIOS in order to continue reviewing the device.

This is just one of several examples of how a keyboardless/mouseless Windows computer is a total joke when it comes to usability. It’s not just the fact that entering text on the OSK is far slower than with a real keyboard, or that the inability to float the mouse renders plenty of programs hard or impossible to use, but could you imagine taking your Onkyo TW317 on an important business trip and having to tell your boss: “Sorry, I can’t send those vital reports because I forgot to pack a USB keyboard, and the computer is stuck in the BIOS”? That’s just insane; no normal user should have run into such a stupid situation because the computer lacks the basic tools necessary to interact with it.

Sumocat, resident tablet PC expert from Gottabemobile.com, has informed me that Microsoft had once-upon-a-time set up some slate-device guidelines which specified that slate devices such as the TW317 be fitted with D-pads to ensure that they are fully compatible with the OS and the BIOS. It’s not clear whether Microsoft is still publishing such guidelines, but what is clear is that Onkyo decided not to equip the device with a D-pad, and users will suffer because of it.

As with the Asus R50A of old, I found redundant built-in utilities. Two different utilities that would run automatically both wanted to control the brightness and wireless radios of the device.

Automatic rotation of the screen orientation absolutely would not work on the Onkyo TW317 even though it was supposed to. No amount of playing with the utility that had the auto-rotate option seemed to help. Not sure if this is a software or hardware problem, but you can at least manually change the orientation.

I’ve got a video that was taken a little while back that will give you a decent idea of what the touch experience is like on the TW317:

Keyboard

keyboard

The keyboard brings new meaning to the phrase “hunt and peck. inch Each key-press must be very deliberately placed which is a real pain. There’s extremely rudimentary predictive-text, but in a world of great OSKs (on-screen-keyboards) being offered from Android, iOS, and even WP7, the OSK on the TW317 simply doesn’t stand up. This keyboard is hardly good for entering URLs, let alone writing notes. You’ll have to manually call the keyboard up, and usually dismiss it manually which is bothersome if you’re used to rarely having to think about the keyboard on modern smartphones.

In a select-few applications, a keyboard button will pop-up when you click inside a text field. Tapping the button will open the OSK. Unfortunately this box pops-up inconsistently even where it is supposed to. In the vast majority of applications, the box will not even appear automatically, so you’ll have to launch the keyboard manually from the button that hovers on the side of the screen. Inconsistency is a big no-no in interface design and this is a great example of what not to do; having to look in one of two places for where to launch the OSK is worse than simply relegating it to the side of the screen every time.

Aligning your cursor for editing text without a real mouse is awful and very frustrating. Sadly, this problem has already been solved on Android, iOS, and even Microsoft’s own WP7.

Scrolling & Snap

Scrolling and Snap are some of the only things found in Windows 7 that actually feel natural with the touchscreen. Scrolling within any explorer window can be done anywhere, rather than attempting to grab the tiny scroll bar. It’s got inertia and generally scrolls smoothly. There’s even a rubber-banding effect shown by the whole window to indicate when you’ve hit the top of the bottom of the list. It’s unfortunate that this great scrolling implementation doesn’t make its way into third-party applications.

“Snap inch is the term that Microsoft uses to describe the window size gestures that are done by grabbing the window’s title bar. If you grab the bar and push it to the top of the screen, the window will maximize. If you grab the bar and pull it away from the top, it’ll restore to a smaller size. You can also make the window occupy half of the screen by pushing the bar against the left of right sides of the screen (good for looking at two things at once). It’s very natural to do, and is way easier than trying to hit the relatively small buttons at the top-right that are normally reserved for maximizing/minimizing windows.

You can also use the “Peek inch function which involves shaking the window from the title bar which cases all other windows to be minimized. This works fine through touch but I don’t ever really use it.

Multitouch

Multitouch in Windows 7 is currently (and for the foreseeable future) just a buzzword that Microsoft likes to toss around. The only place you’ll find multitouch implementations is in paint, Internet Explorer, and the default Windows Photo Viewer (and maybe a few obscure programs). It’s up to third-party application developers to add multitouch support to their applications, and pretty much no one is doing so.

This makes the multitouch capability of the device essentially useless. Unless of course you want to draw two things at the same time in paint:

smileys

Touch Pack

Touch Pack is a group of programs and games from Microsoft that are optimized for touchscreen use, presumably released because no one else is making them. I would have loved to have given it a try, but… well I’ll let this photo speak for itself:

touchpack fail

Performance

IMG_3700

“Painfully slow inch is the best way I can describe the overall performance of the Onkyo TW317. I will say that I was wholeheartedly impressed that the device handles 720p video from YouTube with no issue, if only because the performance in other parts of the device were in no way indicative that it would be able to play-back HD video.

Microsoft wants you to use Internet Explorer for your web touch-based web browsing as they’ve built in a lot of little optimizations for touch. Inertia scroll is there by default, so is multitouch zooming. Unfortunately, both perform horrendously. When attempting to browse a site like Engadget, I’d see regular lockups that would last for several seconds. Simply trying to scroll up and down the page to browse stories was incredibly sluggish and almost unusable. If you weren’t already using Chrome or Firefox, you will be shortly after using IE on the TW317.

Chrome helps keep the scrolling lock-ups at bay, but it’s by no means smooth. Part of this is hardware/performance based, and the other part is that scrolling in Windows is quantized, meaning that it has set increments in which it can jump, leading to unsmooth scrolling.

You’ll need to supplement the missing inertia-scrolling with addons/extensions in Firefox and Chrome.

Benchmarks

Flash
The Man in Blue flash bechmark runs more slowly on the TW317 than on the Motorola Xoom which is a bit sad considering the difference in price. You’ll see around 20-24 FPS on the TW317 and 28-30 FPS from the Xoom. For some context, my laptop (several years old) pushes around 50 FPS with several applications open.

CrystalMark
The TW317 scores worse in CrystalMark than one of the very first devices that I ever reviewed here on ultra mobile PC Portal, the Acer Aspire One.

onkyo tw317 crystal mark

Back in 2008, the Acer Aspire One scored 27k, and it didn’t even have an SSD. The TW317, which gets a 2k bonus from the SSD, still only scored 25k in CrystalMark. This is only slightly better than my five year old Sony VAIO UX180 which scores around 23k.

Sunspider
The Sunspider javascript benchmark is very browser dependent, but it gives us a way to compare cross-platform performance. I ran Sunspider on the TW317 and found a score of 2122.4ms (using the latest public release of Chrome). It turns out that the Xoom outperforms the TW317 in Sunspider by scoring 2045.9ms in the default browser. I’m not sure if I should be impressed by the Xoom or ashamed of the TW317. For context, my Windows 7 laptop scores 567ms in Sunspider.

Video Playback
As mentioned, playback of 720p YouTube content actually worked with no issues. I was also happy to find that local 720p content played fine through VLC. I tested the same 720p content encoded with AVI, H264, and OGG. All of them played smoothly through VLC.

If you push the resolution up to 1080p with H264, you’ll actually find relatively smooth video with the occasional freeze. It’s not entirely unwatchable, but I would prefer smooth 720p over 1080p with occasional freezes.

Video encoded with OGG in 1080p tends to freeze much more often, while AVI/MPEG4 1080p actually sees better performance than H264 and plays with no lockups.

Battery Life

Battery life on the TW317 wasn’t all that bad, but the lack of removable battery makes power options on this slate less flexible than with other devices. Using the classic BatteryEater benchmark, which runs the computer at 100% CPU until the battery discharges, the device ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes. This figure indicates approximately the least amount of time that the slate can be run on battery power, so normal use would likely see around 4 or 5 hours of use. The discharge graph was very uniform so you can expect consistent battery run times.

Conclusion

Aside from some unexpectedly good video handling, the Onkyo TW317 is a joke. On paper, the device might not sound so bad, but when you remove vital components (mouse/keyboard) from a computer running an OS that is designed from the ground-up to take advantage of those components, you shouldn’t be surprised when things go wrong. There’s no way that I would ever recommend this device over a convertible tablet PC, or a slate with an active digitizer , or even a consumer tablet (iPad/Xoom, etc.). Sluggish web browsing, near-complete lack of finger-touch-optimized applications, and horrible end-user usability make my recommendation for this device an easy one: don’t buy one. Ever.

P.S. I’m fully aware that there will be at least one person out there who thinks that I’m out to give slates a bad name. This couldn’t be more wrong. If this was a product that worked well and was actually useful, I’d be happy to report that. Unfortunately I can only go on the true usability/practicality of the device, and that’s exactly what you’ve read above.

Edit: A little clarification in the comments —

I’m not dissing touch on Windows. I’m dissing slates WITHOUT keyboards or mice (active digitizer is an acceptable replacement for keyboard/mouse). I OWN a tablet PC and I love it. The different between a slate and a tablet PC is that slates do not have keyboards or mice, while tablets are convertible. I love the ink input. I even love the occasional touch input (it’s resistive however so I use it less commonly). The issue is that touch only works effectively for a SMALL portion of the overall Windows OS. This is why it makes sense to have a convertible which still has a keyboard and mouse so you can switch between the different input methods as needed. As soon as you remove those two components, you are forcing the user to use crippled input that Windows was not designed for. The fact that the user can get stuck in the BIOS without a USB keyboard, or the fact that some applications are rendered nearly unusable when you only have touch input clearly shows that touch-only is not a good experience and was not well thought out by the people who are creating slates.

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