The fatal flaw is a design issue. Trying to jam a PC's functionality into a tablet-like shell is akin to hosting a dinner party around a cocktail table. No matter how many clever tricks you use, it's going to feel weird.
One core problem is the device's most fundamental feature: its size. No hardware maker has been able to find an elegant solution to the visual discrepancies -- screen size and aspect ratio -- between the laptop and tablet forms.
Laptop displays are generally at least 11.5 inches, and the 16:9 aspect ratio is almost an industry convention. That long rectangle gives us room to manipulate a windowed environment. Anything smaller requires voodoo to conjure a good experience out of the machine.
Tablet displays more or less max out at 10 inches, and the industry-leading iPad opts for a 4:3 aspect ratio. That lends itself to books, magazines, and Web pages.
With the Surface, Microsoft hedged its bet, and went with a 10.6-inch, 16:9 display.
That strikes the best balance we've seen yet between physical and digital usability, but it's still far from perfect. Oversized tablets with a 16:9 aspect ratio feel awkward. Perhaps people have been conditioned to believe that words are best consumed in a space that feels like a standard, letter-sized paper page.
Aric Cheston, executive creative director at Frog Design, acknowledges an inherent tension.
"There's a certain reality to be embraced about the legacy proportions," he says. "You have to find a smart way of accommodating those."
If the problem can't be solved with clever hardware design, the burden falls squarely on the software.
Microsoft's Windows 8 is the strongest argument that a unified software experience can mask hardware compromises. But it still leans on the traditional desktop environment like a crutch, falling back any time the new "Modern" interface (better known as Metro, its development codename) can't provide a better approach. It's not ideal for smaller screens or fingers, and it comes at the expense of usability.