Last month was an odd sort of anniversary at Microsoft. In the summer of 2015, Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood and Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again topped the charts while speculation about the iPhone 6S was running wild.
And that July, Microsoft announced one of its most spectacular fails — ever.
Satya Nadella, just a year into his tenure as Microsoft CEO, announced a $7.6 billion financial loss for Microsoft because of the company’s failed acquisition of phone giant Nokia, announced in 2013. Worse, 7,800 workers would lose their jobs. Nadella pretty much said they’d step back from the smartphone market in the near future.
“We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem including our first-party device family,” Nadella said in an email to Microsoft employees at the time. “I am committed to our first-party devices, including phones.”
Turns out that wasn’t the end of Microsoft’s phone ambitions. Around the time the company was writing off Nokia, a team inside Microsoft was hatching a plan to create a new device, one that would straddle what a phone and tablet could be and finally give Microsoft relevance in the half-trillion dollar global smartphone market, dominated by Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
The result is the Surface Duo, a $1,399 smartphone-ish device that weighs 8.8 ounces and features two 5.6-inch screens that come together to form a larger display with a hinged seam down the center. The design allows it to lay unfolded, flat on a table. You can also set it up like a tent, with the two screens facing outward. You can hold it open like a book, with the two screens facing inward. And you can close it like a clamshell. Microsoft’s approach runs counter to other foldable devices released this year, including the Galaxy Z Fold 2, which Samsung hasn’t revealed the price of yet. Samsung’s device is built around a single 7.6-inch interior screen that bends when closed.
“We just have a belief there’s a new category here,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer and Surface head, told me in an interview last week about Microsoft’s unique design. “We know how much more productive people are on two monitors.”
The other thing that makes the Surface Duo unusual is that it’s not powered by Microsoft’s Windows software for PCs, or its mobile variant that was discontinued in 2017. Instead, it runs on a modified version of Google’s Android, the software used by pretty much every smartphone or tablet that doesn’t come from Apple. Also notable is that the Surface Duo — unlike the Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 — doesn’t support next-generation 5G wireless technology. Microsoft said it opted to skip 5G as part of a trade-off to save battery life and allow the device to be only 4.8 millimeters thick when open (less than the iPad Pro’s 5.9 millimeters). When closed, the two screens stack on one another, making the Surface Duo’s thickness 9.9 millimeters — or less than half an inch.
“When we designed it, the intent was, ‘How do you make something so thin, beautiful, light and super elegant that when people pick it up they can feel that emotion in the product,”‘ Panay said.
This kind of talk about changing our lives through a product is common among tech executives and particularly of Panay, whose sentimental stage presence at Microsoft events stands out from the typically robotic marketing people going through their script.
Panay shows us his personal Surface Duo device during a video chat, with messages on the right side, ESPN on the left. He tries to hide calendar invites and emails as he excitedly demonstrates how they work. “I believe the world needs to move forward creating a more mobile, productive world,” he said.
Whether you’ll believe him probably has a bit to do with what you think of Microsoft. CNET reviewer Scott Stein, who got to play with a see-through prototype that didn’t have working screens, says the Surface Duo feels comfortable to hold, like a book. “It doesn’t feel like two phones glued together, either,” Stein said.
The Surface Duo goes on sale Sept. 10, but is available from Microsoft, AT&T and Best Buy for preorder starting Wednesday. Microsoft had initially planed to launch the device on Aug. 28, but said it ran into administrative issues.
The Surface Duo will work on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless networks. The AT&T version will be locked to that network.
It’s easy to dismiss Microsoft — and many people do. The 45-year-old company is treated like the elder statesman of tech, which it is, and Nadella himself proudly admits his company isn’t cool. “You join here not to be cool, but to make others cool,” he told me in 2018. “You want to be cool by doing that empowerment … It’s the result that matters.”
So while it may not be a buzzy, hip company, it’s valued at $1.54 trillion, making it one of the top five companies in the world along with Amazon, Apple and Google parent Alphabet. Its Windows software powers more than 77% of the computers on the planet. And its Office productivity software is so ingrained in our culture that most of my friends don’t know the name of Google’s free competing apps — they’re just “the Google version of Excel” or “Google’s PowerPoint.” (They’re called Google Sheets and Slides, but even I had to look that up to be sure.)
Microsoft became such a powerful force that a judge determined the company violated antitrust rules in 2002. But the US government just slapped it on the wrist and let it continue being Microsoft. “Now the only way Microsoft can die is by suicide,” industry pundit Robert Cringely wrote after the verdict.
You could argue it’s tried that too.
Microsoft’s Surface Duo sits at the top of a mind-boggling pile of fails, with untold billions of dollars lost on acquisitions, distractions and dead-ends.
The billions of dollars lost on Nokia don’t include the failed Windows Phone software that powered its Lumia phones, the millions spent wooing developers to make apps for those handsets, or the millions more doled out on advertising against market leaders Samsung and Apple. (And don’t get me started on Microsoft’s squandered opportunity with the Pocket PC initiative, which started in 2000 and was killed off in 2010.)
The phone flops don’t stop at Nokia and Windows Phone. There’s also the Kin smartphone for teens, born from its 2008 acquisition of phone maker Danger for a reported $500 million. The device was so unpopular it was pulled from store shelves within two months of its 2010 launch.
Today, Microsoft’s Surface tablet PC is well thought of, and the software and services that run it live up to expectations.
The question is whether the Surface Duo, a device that took more than five years and an untold amount of money to create (the company wouldn’t say how much), will be a home run like Office, well regarded like the Surface or another Nokia money pit.
“It’s the beginning of a whole new venture for a new form factor and not just for Microsoft,” Panay said. “I think that’s pretty awesome.”
He and his team are especially excited about the philosophy that drove the Surface Duo’s design.
But Panay isn’t naive. He knows not everyone will go out and buy it on day one, in part because of its unusual design and its focus on work tasks. Its 11-megapixel camera’s specs don’t stand up to those from Samsung and Apple, and it also doesn’t have stereo speakers, making it a poor competitor to top-tier devices with Dolby-enabled stereo speakers marketed as great machines to watch and listen to media with.
Not to mention, at a premium price of $1,399 for the 128GB version, Surface Duo is a hard enough sell on a normal day. But now, it’s arriving in the middle of a pandemic that’s spurred one of the biggest economic catastrophes of the modern age. Microsoft says it will offer customers a 0% interest payments over 24 months if bought through the company, and it’ll be available through AT&T’s Next Up upgrade program as well.
“With any luck Duo 2, 3 and 4 will be better,” Dignan added. “Assuming it lasts that long.”
Panay realizes the Surface Duo will be a challenging sell, and says he’ll be happy if the device inspires phones in the same way the Surface’s thin design and keyboard cover changed the way companies make PCs and tablets. And to prove it, he says that Microsoft’s working with Google to bring the technologies developed for the Surface Duo into Android, so other device makers can build similar gadgets too. That includes things like the software Microsoft created to manage the two screens side by side and to make apps work between them too.
“Products are a reflection of the people that make them,” Panay adds. “These products have our soul and love in them. And we hope that you feel it.”
When demoing a new device, Microsoft typically invites reporters to its campus in Redmond, Washington, to see an array of prototypes, testing equipment and labs in order to talk through the broader context about its newest gadget.
In 2019, when touring the company’s Human Factors Engineering Lab, I stumbled on an Xbox controller that was heavier than the standard ones I’d used. It was larger too, with buttons far enough apart I had to stretch my fingers to touch some of them. Carl Ledbetter, then senior director of design at the lab, said it’s meant to help his engineers better understand what it’s like for different people to hold the controller. In this case, he said, “You are 5 years old.”
The coronavirus pandemic made those fun moments impossible with the Surface Duo.
This time, I’m peering through a webcam into Panay’s home, then one of Microsoft’s on-campus presentation rooms where the company assures me the employees are safe and following social distancing guidelines. We struggle with technical issues over the Microsoft Teams video chat software, and joke how if anyone should be able to make these conversations work effortlessly, it should be techies like us (Sigh.)
There were no rows of prototypes, but four members of Panay’s team took time to explain the process of developing the Surface Duo’s slimline, dual-screen design and the tech that made it possible.
Making it thinner meant pushing electronics to the bezels of the screens, for example. But then executives pushed to have those bezels shrunk as well. The two batteries built into Surface Duo are different sizes and behind the two different screens, so Microsoft had to build specialized battery management tech to make sure they’d charge, discharge and generally work together in ways we, the customers, wouldn’t notice. And they had to do that with wires snaking between the hinges.
The company spent a lot of time on those hinges, which look like small cuffs connecting the top and bottom of the two screens. They’re mostly made of stainless steel on the outside. Inside, they’re made from an Iron-Copper powder for the movement mechanism and a Copper-Nickel-based alloy for the wires.
Microsoft says the “dual-axis” hinges are designed to move in 360 degrees. But wherever you stop, they need to allow the screens to sit without wobbling. It takes a lot of work to make a hinge easy to move on purpose, but hard to move by accident.
Microsoft said it’s put prototypes through millions of folds, but wouldn’t give specifics about how much the hinges can withstand other than to say they’ll last “well beyond the lifespan” of the device.
“Miniaturization of the hinge is kind of fundamental,” said Pavan Davuluri, a 16-year veteran engineer of Microsoft who also works on the company’s Surface products. To make the Surface Duo work, he said Microsoft had to create ever-smaller hinges that would connect to the displays without making them too thick.
There’s a suite of gyroscope sensors to identify where the screens are relative to each other, so they can display an app or video the way you’re holding the device. There’s also software that anticipates when people are shifting between the two touchscreens too, dragging apps from one screen to another with your finger or a pen (which is sold separately for at least $100). The software senses when you’re moving a photo or other media between the screens, too.
Microsoft’s designers built in visual cues into Android to help you figure things out. You can tell the Surface Duo to save a setting of two apps side by side, so you can easily go back to them together whenever you want. When you do that, the device creates a special home screen icon that shows a split gray square that’s a little larger than a folder, with an app on each side.
Finally, Panay’s design team worked to make sure the two screens lined up perfectly. To do that, Microsoft created a larger screen under each top and bottom bezel. That way, when the left and right sides of the device are brought together in manufacturing (it’s made in China), the viewing area of each screen is shifted slightly up or down so they match. Then, they’re calibrated to display near identical light and color as well.
“Displays are like snowflakes, no two displays are ever the same,” said Steven Bathiche, a Microsoft technical fellow who focuses on how we interact with our computers as head of Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group. “Every decision, every innovation that we did, down from the aspect ratio to the pixels, was about designing a mobile form that helped you stay in the flow and help you do more.”
When he thinks of the design of the two screens, Bathiche said it’s an homage to magazines and books, whose 4:3 aspect ratio is similar to the screens on the Surface Duo. But it’s different from the 19.5:9 aspect ratio typically found on a modern iPhone, or 19.3:9 on Samsung’s recently announced $1,300 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. It’s no wonder then that Amazon’s been building a Kindle app for the device that mimics reading a real book.
“We are fundamentally inspired by paper, we’re inspired by notebooks, we’re inspired by Moleskines and slates,” Bathiche said.
How not to fail
Between phone calls with Microsoft, Stein and I discussed aspects of the device that stood out to us. He liked how the prototype Microsoft sent him felt in his hands. “I’ve been skeptical about dual-screen devices, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the Surface Duo,” he said. And yet, even holding a non-working unit, he said, “I’m already falling in love with the feel of the thing.”
I was intrigued by having two apps open on two different screens, something developers working on apps for my Apple iPad Pro just can’t seem to get right. I wondered whether the seam down the middle might be annoying, but I got used to the notch on my iPhone, and Galaxy Fold users tell me they hardly notice the crease on their foldable screen.
“It’s a specialized device that will find a group of people who will love it to death,” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at Technalysis Research. O’Donnell says he loves last year’s Samsung Galaxy Fold he’s been using, particularly because the larger screen makes it easier for him to do work, and offers a bigger area to see text.
He hasn’t touched the Surface Duo yet, but he’s worried the hinge-seam will annoy people where the single screen that’s folded on Samsung’s device wouldn’t. And not to mention, mobile device makers Kyocera and ZTE have both tried building dual-screen phones in the past, only to see them flop.
Still, O’Donnell’s ready to give Panay and his hinges the benefit of the doubt.
“Microsoft’s smart enough and thinking through enough that it will come up with methods of working that people find attractive,” he said.
Panay wants us to know Microsoft didn’t arrive at this design by accident. It isn’t a resurrection of the failed Courier project either, despite looking similar to Microsoft’s prototyped-but-never-released two-screen productivity tablet leaked in 2009. Unlike the Surface Duo, the Courier ran a version of Windows, relied heavily on a pen that people would regularly use to write on the screen.
For Microsoft, the Surface Duo is about trying to strike out with something genuinely new in an age where most phones look the same, and the ones that don’t haven’t taken off.
For whatever criticisms you level at Microsoft, the Surface Duo is a type of device none of its peers are offering. Whether that’s good or bad will be up to you.
“We know the mobile landscape needs to change,” Panay said. “There’s so much more that can happen.”
First published on August 12, 2020 at 4:23 a.m. PT.
Nothing ruins a sojourn outdoors quite like an entourage of pesky mosquitoes chowing down on your arms and legs. Sure, bug spray is great and all. But between the various active ingredients and concentrations, it’s hard to know what actually works, let alone find a spray that doesn’t smell like a chemistry class or make you feel like you took a dip in a vat of oil.
That’s why we went hands-on with bug repellents to test how they feel, how they smell and everything else you’d want to know about a bug spray before you use one. All this after consulting with multiple experts to ensure we included repellents that are actually effective at, well, repelling bugs. We tested only bug sprays that have an active ingredient approved by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, p-Menthane-3,8-diol (which is in oil of lemon eucalyptus), IR3535 and 2-Undecanone. DEET was the resounding favorite among the experts we interviewed, but they all praised the effectiveness of the other ingredients as well, especially picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
To be clear, we didn’t test each spray for its efficacy at repelling bugs, since there are so many external variables that go into that. Instead, we used our extensive research and the opinions of experts to choose a pool of sprays that science has proven to be effective.
After multiple weeks of testing, we found three bug sprays that stood above the rest:
The Proven Insect Repellent Spray proved to be a winner during our user testing. The bottle boasts a quick and easy spray (it’s also one of the most portable bottles), and users noted its near complete lack of scent. Even with its wide coverage, Proven was nice and light to the point we barely felt it on our skin. While you might forget you’re wearing it, though, bugs won’t. We found in our research (and the experts agreed) that the active ingredient picaridin — Proven’s active ingredient comprising 20% of its formula — is one of the best at repelling bugs.
Coming just shy of first place was the Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray, a 30% IR3535 aerosol bottle that shined all around. It had a consistent, wide spray, and the aerosol can made it super easy to spray ourselves quickly. It dried instantly and didn’t leave any greasy residue on our skin.
The best-scoring DEET option was the Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent, which is a 25% DEET formulation. We didn’t love any of the DEET repellents we tested, as they often smelled bad or felt greasy on our skin. Cutter’s bug spray scored better than the other DEET picks in our pool, largely due to its relative durability and its consistent scoring in most of our tests. So if you’re looking for the science-backed, consensus best active ingredient for repelling insects, DEET is your go-to. And since Cutter wasn’t as harsh-smelling (or as greasy) as the rest we tested, we think it’s the ideal DEET choice.
Best overall bug spray: Proven Insect Repellent Spray ($16.97; homedepot.com)
Proven Insect Repellent Spray
This picaridin formula from Proven is one of the most portable options, perfect for hikers or for simply stashing in your bag so you’re always prepared. The nozzle, despite its small design, is incredibly consistent and applies evenly. It isn’t an aerosol can, but it’s equipped with a long pump, so spraying felt nice and easy, even though it gets harder when you spray it upside down (since, thanks to gravity, the straw may no longer be submerged). Despite that fact, it didn’t take us a long time to spray ourselves. With an average application time of just over 21 seconds, it was the fastest pump spray we tested.
Proven Spray’s scent is largely, well, nonexistent. Each bug spray went through two separate testers, and both testers who used Proven said they could barely smell anything. No wafting tears-inducing chemical odor. The Proven also wasn’t greasy and had a nearly perfect score for the way the spray felt on our skin. It was easy to forget that we even applied this spray — besides the fact no bug would dare touch our skin.
The Proven repellent was also remarkably portable, thanks in part to its slim bottle. It can fit in basically any bag, but it’s not so small that you’ll easily lose it. (If you do prefer a pocket-size spray, this repellent is available in a smaller, 2-ounce spritzer.) The bottle also comes with a simple cap to protect from any leaks, which held up well during some stress testing. While it doesn’t provide perfect protection because it can fall off, when one of our testers threw it in a bag and went for a bike ride it stayed completely secure.
We absolutely love the way the Proven disappears on our skin and its basically scentless formula. If you’re looking for an insect repellent that’s easy to use and easy to forget, you can’t get much better than the Proven Insect Repellent Spray.
Coming in just shy of first place in our ratings is the Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray. It was one of our best sprays in the performance category (which covered tests such as spray smell, feel, quality and others), falling just a little short in portability due to its slightly bulky bottle.
The IR3535 repellent had a wide, even spray that made application a breeze. And since it’s an aerosol can rather than a pump spray, we didn’t have the problem of the pump not being submerged in the spray when applying it upside down. Instead, the aerosol pushes the repellent out, which made spraying our entire bodies a super fast process. Just be careful of spraying upside down too often, because like all aerosol products, if you do it too much, the aerosol will escape. (We had this happen with a different aerosol spray when we used it upside down too many times, which resulted in repellent stuck in the can with no way to get out. Bummer.)
The feel of the Coleman SkinSmart wasn’t greasy or sticky at all. The formula uses a drying technology that makes it disappear almost instantly on your skin. The only big speed bump we ran into with this spray was its smell. It’s marketed as odorless, and while that rang true for one of our testers, another said it had a smell of chemicals that could easily make you cough when you spray it, and that the harsh scent lingered for a while.
Another highlight of the Coleman IR3535 formula is the bottle it comes in. It’s equipped with a locking switch to keep it secure. It was right in the middle in terms of size, not big and bulky but also not slim and packable like some of the other options we tested.
Best DEET bug spray: Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent ($4.28; homedepot.com)
Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent
During our research, we found DEET to be the consensus gold standard when it comes to insect repellents (read more on how we chose our testing pool below). But despite their reputation, sprays containing DEET didn’t score as well overall in our tests as other options. If you don’t care as much about the smell and feel of the spray and want the science-backed, best-in-class ingredient for repelling bugs, DEET is the way to go.
The Cutter had a solid spray, though it came out slightly wet and cold at times. The nozzle is larger than the others we tested, resulting in a wide area of application. This, plus its ability to spray upside down, made for ultra fast application times, clocking in at under 13 seconds on average for mostly full-body coverage.
The spray wasn’t too offensive, but still a little harsh. It has that classic chemical smell you expect from bug spray. The repellent also left a light residue that took quite a while to fully dry, but it didn’t feel terribly greasy.
While this repellent didn’t perform overly exceptionally or poorly in most of our tests, its biggest downside was the bottle’s size. It’s a bulky spray, which makes it easy to handle but hard to simply throw in your bag for a day on the trails. The size does make it quite durable, though, as both testers noted its sturdy build. And after all the testing and spraying it worked good as new, in contrast to some other sprays that had caps pop off or clogged nozzles.
If you’re looking for a DEET spray, willing to sacrifice some comfort in terms of the spray’s feel and smell, and you don’t mind carrying around a larger can, Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent should top your list.
How we chose our testing pool
We selected 10 bug sprays after thoroughly researching the most effective ingredients and talking to several experts to find the best of the best at repelling insects. We chose only repellents with both an active ingredient that is both CDC– and EPA-approved, which are DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, p-Menthane-3,8-diol (which is a component of oil of lemon eucalyptus, but they are regulated separately), IR3535 and 2-Undecanone.
Our experts largely echoed the CDC and EPA, praising the effectiveness of all these ingredients, but heralded DEET above all else as the industry standard. “DEET is still the gold standard to many in the public health profession,” says Elmer Gray, public health extension entomologist for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Many of his peers also agree.
“The gold standard for insect repellents is still DEET-based products sold under a whole host of brand names,” echoes Dr. Jerome Goddard, extension professor of medical entomology at Mississippi State University. “Many studies through the years have demonstrated its effectiveness against a variety of flying insects and (somewhat) against ticks.”
While some may harbor concerns over DEET’s safety and its toxicity, all the experts we talked to said those worries are largely unfounded. “The first law of toxicology is that everything is toxic,” says Dr. Jeffrey G. Scott, professor of insect toxicology at the department of entomology at Cornell University. “It’s just the dose that determines the effect.” The EPA has concluded that DEET is safe, and many of the worrying stories of people getting seizures or even dying came after ingestion or “dermal applications not consistent with label directions.”
The CDC recommends using products with an active ingredient concentration of more than 10% for limited protection and says that the effectiveness of DEET plateaus after 50%. The experts we talked to agree. “In general, higher concentrations of an active ingredient provide longer duration of protection, regardless of the active ingredient,” says Dr. Eva Buckner, assistant professor and state extension specialist at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Medical Entomology Laboratory. “However, concentrations above around 50% do not offer a marked increase in protection time. Products with less than 10% active ingredient may offer only limited protection, often from one to two hours.” Following that guidance, all the repellents we tested have between a 10% and 30% concentration of their active ingredients.
How we tested
We ran each bug repellent through the same tests to measure both performance and portability. We did not test each spray’s ability to physically repel bugs, but instead relied on our extensive research and the opinions of experts we interviewed to create criteria that all the repellents we tested met. Our performance ratings, rather, were based on tests that examined the physical quality of spray, smell and feel among other things. Since many of these tests are subjective, we had two testers evaluate each repellent and took the average of both results. Here’s a full breakdown of every test we ran:
Spray quality: We tested how wide, even and consistent the spray was by applying it multiple times on ourselves.
Spray smell: We smelled the spray whenever we applied it and noted how strong or weak it was and if it was a pleasant or harsh smell.
Spray feel: We noted how the spray felt on our skin whenever we applied it, and if it was greasy or sticky.
Spray difficulty: We tested how hard it was to spray ourselves with each repellent, noting how hard it was to hold each bottle and if we could spray it upside down.
Spray time: Each tester sprayed themselves three times with each repellent, finding the average time it took to spray themselves. We then averaged the results from both testers to come up with an average spray time.
Spray durability: After conducting all of our other tests, we observed how the bottle held up and if the quality of the spray was affected.
Leaks: We examined each bottle and looked for any sort of locking mechanism or cap and judged how likely it would be to leak in a bag.
Size: We noted how large each bottle was and threw it in a bag to see if it took up a lot of space.
Size options: We researched how many size options are available for each repellent.
How we rated
We rated the performance of each repellent as we conducted all the tests mentioned above. We gave each repellent a score for each test, added those up to find a score for each category and tallied those results to find an overall rating. Here’s a full breakdown of our scoring system:
Performance had a maximum of 75 points: spray quality (15 points), spray smell (15 points), spray feel (15 points), spray difficulty (10 points), spray time (10 points) and spray durability (10 points).
Portability had a maximum of 25 points: leaks (15 points), size (5 points) and size options (5 points).
Other bug sprays we tested
OFF! Deep Woods Insect & Mosquito Repellent VIII, 2-Pack ($7.97, originally $11.89; amazon.com)
OFF! Deep Woods Insect & Mosquito Repellent VIII, 2-Pack
This spray was one of the leaders early on in the testing process, but it dropped in the rankings after some durability issues. The cap popped off in a bag during a day of hiking, and after some serious spraying (much of it upside down), the aerosol in the bottle ran out, resulting in a can that still has bug repellent in it with no way to get it out. If you’re careful with the slightly more delicate can and avoid spraying it upside down too much, then the OFF! Deep Woods repellent is a top-notch pick.
Ben’s had an incredibly strong, unpleasant and chemical smell along with a thick and wet feel that had both of our testers antsy for a shower. Its spraying mechanism mimics the distribution you’d get from an aerosol can without actually using any of the gas — however, the spray itself came out extremely dense and sticky, which outweighed any of its other benefits.
The pump spray on the Sawyer repellent provided short little spritzes that didn’t cover much area, so we found ourselves spraying a lot to get even coverage. Its small size makes it a little difficult to hold and spray all around, but it doesn’t have a terribly strong smell. It dried quite quickly, but the pump also got clogged quite a bit during testing. The highlight was definitely the double-locking lid, which ensured a leak-free experience.
OFF! Family Care Picaridin Aerosol ($6.89; target.com)
OFF! Family Care Picaridin Aerosol
This picaridin option from OFF! also impressed our testers, with a wide aerosol spray and a fast-drying feel. One tester said she didn’t smell anything when she applied it and another smelled orange peel, so even if you do smell anything, it’s not a harsh, eye-watering scent. This repellent scored highest in our performance category, but it doesn’t have a cap or lock, is a little bulky and comes in just one size, which knocked off some points. Only one point behind our runner-up, Coleman SkinSmart spray, it’s still a high-quality option.
OFF! Botanicals Mosquito and Insect Repellent IV ($4.96; amazon.com)
OFF! Botanicals Mosquito and Insect Repellent IV
This repellent is made with p-menthane-3,8-diol, but its tiny size and small pump made it hard to apply. The spray itself isn’t doesn’t apply particularly evenly and sometimes just squirts a jet of spray instead of misting, but it didn’t have a scent at all, which was a huge bonus. It’s also available in one of the smallest size options, at 2 ounces, so if you want a truly tiny spray you can fit in your pocket, this one could be for you.
Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent ($4.97, originally $7; amazon.com)
The scent of this lemon eucalyptus spray was polarizing for our testers: One loved the herby tones and the other was left coughing because of its strong and pungent smell. (Even if you do enjoy the scent, we’d recommend applying it outside.) This repellent was also extremely greasy and took a while to dry. Similar to the Ben’s spray, the first thing we wanted to do after applying it was take a shower.
Coleman Naturally Based DEET-Free Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent ($9.17; amazon.com)
Coleman Naturally Based DEET-Free Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
This spray had a pleasant smell due to its oil of lemon eucalyptus base, although it was strong at times. The pump worked well, but it took too long to apply and the bottle is a bit stubborn: You can’t spray it upside down due to its pump function, and it’s easy for your finger to slip off the small nozzle. It was oilier than other options and the spray dripped around the nozzle, making it a little messy.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:
These Asparagus and Feta Tartlets with Phyllo Crust are so easy to make – the perfect Spring appetizer, brunch, or lunch dish!
Asparagus and Feta Tartlet with Phyllo Crust
These Asparagus and Feta Tartlets with Phyllo Crust taste as amazing as they look. At their peak in Spring, the asparagus are tangy and bright after a quick sauté and a splash of lemon juice. The feta adds briny flavor, but goat cheese would also work beautifully. If you’re looking for more individual tarts for Spring, you’ll also love these Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tartlets and Layered Potato Cups with Spring Herbs and Leeks.
How to Cut Asparagus
The most important thing to do when prepping asparagus is to snap off the hard, woody end of each stalk. For this tart recipe, cut off the top 1.5 inches of the asparagus and cut the remaining parts into 1-inch pieces.
Is phyllo dough the same as puff pastry?
Phyllo dough and puff pastry are not the same and should not be substituted for each other. Puff pastry is more buttery and thicker than phyllo dough. Phyllo is a very thin pastry made of mostly flour and water with very little fat. It can also be spelled “filo” and means “leaf” in Greek. Since phyllo doesn’t have much fat, I spray each sheet with oil before cutting. Work quickly with the dough to prevent it from drying out.
How to Serve Asparagus Tartlets
One of these mini quiches would be a delicious appetizer, or two served with a salad would make a satisfying lunch.
How to Reheat Tartlets
These individual asparagus tarts make great leftovers. To re-crisp the phyllo dough, heat the leftovers in the oven until warmed through, and the phyllo is crispy.
Sub goat cheese for feta.
If asparagus are out of season, try zucchini.
You can easily double this tartlet recipe if you need to feed more people.
More Asparagus Recipes You’ll Love:
Asparagus and Feta Tartlet with Phyllo Crust
Prep Time: 15mins
Cook Time: 35mins
Total Time: 50mins
These Asparagus and Feta Tartlets with Phyllo Crust are so easy to make – the perfect Spring appetizer, brunch, or lunch dish!
12medium asparagus, about 4 ounces
2olive oil spray, divided, plus
2garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
1 1/3ouncesfeta cheese, crumbled
6tablespoonshalf and half
1tablespoonchopped fresh dill
Heat oven to 350° F. Lightly spray 6 cups in a muffin tin with olive oil spray.
Snap off and discard the woody end of the asparagus.
Cut 1 1/2-inch long pieces from the tip end. Cut the remaining parts of the stalks into 1-inch pieces.
Spray nonstick pan with olive oil spray over medium high heat. Add asparagus and garlic and sauté, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 minute more.
Remove asparagus pieces to a plate using a slotted spoon and reserve the pan juices and garlic.
Place a phyllo sheet on a clean work surface, lightly spray with oil and top with another phyllo sheet. Repeat with two more sheets and oil.
Cut the phyllo into 4-inch squares. Fit one square each in the prepared muffin cups. .
Evenly distribute the 1-inch asparagus pieces and feta among the muffin cups.
Whisk half and half, egg, dill, and reserved pan juices together. Evenly divide among the phyllo cups (about 3 1/2 tablespoons in each).
Place two asparagus tips on each cup and bake for for 30 minutes until custard is set and phyllo is golden.
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