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When you use a slow cooker, you must either boil the food before adding it to the slow cooker or add an hour to the cooking time to bring it up to a simmer. That is the time that the cooking actually starts to make the meat tender. Stewing beef would take at least 2.5 to 3 hours. The only way you would do it in an hour is you used fillet steak.
With something that small, there is not a lot of resources for parts and repair. The item is considered a throw away. You could contact customer service at RIVAL and see what they say about the issue. Could be mis-wired or something like that. The only easily replaced part for that is the stoneware.
You should keep the lid on as much as possible. You are correct; once you open the lid, the liquid inside can quickly lose temperature at a rate of 10-15 degrees per minute.
Additionally, taking the top off allows steam to escape, which reduces the point of cooking in a slow cooker (cooking in a relatively closed system, with the steam condensing back to water and flowing back into the broth).
It's not doing a whole lot to the flavor (aside from causing the stew to thicken with the loss of water), but it is definitely causing the cooking to take longer than it should.