Skip navigation

Ting Mobile’s Sponsorship Spotlight: An Interview with Brian Tong

Spotlight Spotlight: Brian Tong in his home studio

We sat down with technology aficionado Brian Tong to discuss all things tech, from his product of the year to his predictions for the future, and what life is like as a YouTuber. 

We’re sure many of you already know and love Tong but, for those of you who don’t, he began his career in the tech industry working as an editor at CNET before taking the leap and going solo on YouTube in 2018. You can read more about him, and his background, here.

He’s one of the best in the game when it comes to technology on YouTube, and we were thrilled to be able to pick his brain. So without further ado, here’s how our conversation went:

How has life changed for you since you left CNET and went independent on YouTube?

It’s been exciting! I’ve been doing more work than I ever have in my life but it’s really rewarding to know that it all comes from me. 

At CNET, I wrote most of my own stuff but I had someone to help me shoot and edit my videos, which allowed me to focus on the writing. Now, I have to do it all myself. It really increased the amount of respect that I have for YouTubers, no matter what type of content they’re producing. 

It’s exhausting, but I’m enjoying it. I said I’d give myself a three year run, to see if this is something I can do long term, and I’m just starting year three. I’m on the right path but I still have a ways to go. 

What would you say is your favorite part of the job?

Being able to control my own destiny. I can choose to make a video on whatever I want. Maybe it won’t get the most views or be algorithm friendly but, as a creator, it’s nice to be able to have the liberty to do what you want.

Everything I do impacts where I’ll end up going, for better or for worse. That can be scary, but it’s also exciting. Ultimately, I don’t have anyone to answer to but myself.

What’s your favorite video that you’ve ever made? 

For me, the videos that bring me the most joy are the ones that make me feel like I’m in high school, making fun videos again. 

I really feel that the most when I do my music videos. We did one with the iPhone 11 Pro, a  cover of Old Town Road, in the sweltering sun over in this old cowboy town.

The battery on the phone lasted the entire shoot, from like 11am until 6pm, in extremely hot weather. And the video looks damn good! 

I don’t get the most views on my music videos, but I don’t care. When you’re always working hard on producing content that other people will care about, you’ve also got to find moments that bring you joy.

All of my music videos are my favorite videos, quite honestly. But that one sticks out because of how we used the tech that we were showcasing. 

What YouTube channels stand out to you as top of the tech game? 

That’s tough, there’s a whole community, which is amazing and I don’t want to miss anyone out! 

Obviously I love MKBHD and Jon Rettinger but seriously, there are so many great creators out there. I love Linus Tech Tips, iJustine, Jonathan Morrison, UrAverage Consumer, the list goes on. 

That said, I don’t watch anyone’s videos until I’ve made my own. Everyone is reviewing the same products and you’ve got to create your own voice. That’s why I never look at other people’s videos before finishing my own, in case they influence my thoughts and opinions.  

Of all the technology that you’ve reviewed, what’s one product that you think everyone should get if budget wasn’t a consideration?

Phones are obviously my first thought, but everyone has their preference of operating systems, which can get tricky.

So, if I were to pick something that everyone could enjoy, I’d say the Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones. 

I’m reviewing them right now, so maybe if I didn’t have them in my head I’d say something else, but these are the best noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever used ever, across the board. 

I might even go as far to say that these might be my product of the year so far.

So if they’re potentially your product of the year so far, what would be your runner-up? 

I’d have to say the new iPhone SE. For $399, that phone is freaking amazing. 

I love that it has Touch ID, the smaller form factor and, of course, that it has the brains and engine of an iPhone 11 Pro. 

Is there anything else worth mentioning? 

If you wanted a little personal pick that not everyone will like, it has to be in the BTS edition of the Samsung Galaxy S20. The phone is purple… it’s gorgeous.  

I’m a huge BTS fan so that’d be my personal “What?!” pick of the year.

You mentioned the new iPhone SE before. Between that and the Pixel 4a, there seems to be a more budget friendly approach to smartphones emerging. Do you think this is a trend that we’ll continue to see?

The Pixel 4a, iPhone SE and the TCL 10 Pro are all great phones around that $349-$399 price point, and that leads me to think that this is the year where the mid-range phone is absolutely coming back. 

Given current economic conditions, not everyone is going to be eager to buy a $1000 phone. So not only do I think the mid-range phone is here to stay, I think they’re going to keep getting better. 

I would argue, other than for people that want to have the latest tech, and the tech reviewers… there’s absolutely no need for a $1,000 phone. 

Pixel 4a phone
Pixel 4a (Image source: Google)

So what would you say is the optimal price for a smartphone these days? Do you think the new iPhone SE has got it about right?

I think $400 is a sweet spot and hard to turn down. You could maybe stretch to $600 or $700, and for that, you’d expect to see some slightly more premium features, like a better camera or better battery life. 

Quite honestly though, you could easily, easily get away with a $400 phone and I don’t feel like you’re missing that much. 

Is there any particular phone that you remember loving, one that has stuck with you?

I would have to say the Sidekick, the Danger Hiptop. 

To this day, I think the keyboard was better than anything BlackBerry put out. There was this weird fidget factor that made it so fun, and it was wide so you had lots of space. 

It was a little bulky but it was great for its time. That is one phone that I will always remember and deeply, deeply love. 

Beyond that, I’d have to say the original iPhone, iPhone 5 and the iPhone 11 Pro are my three favorite iPhones of all time. 

What phone do you think changed the game the most? Perhaps it’s almost not worth asking…

Yep, the original iPhone. But let me add a bit of perspective, I was at WWDC in that room when they announced it. It was one of the greatest tech presentations of all time.

I remember when Steve Jobs started doing the demos. I just thought to myself “Well, this is alien technology!”

On that note of changing the game and innovation, do you see anything big coming up in the near future for Apple?

I think their next biggest innovation lies in the Apple Watch. I would say the Apple Watch is, and has the continued potential to be, one of their best products.

There’s a lot of innovation that can still be done with it; there’s work they can do with the sensors, the wristband and even the type of information they deliver. Apple’s ecosystem is one of their greatest strengths, so any work they can do to integrate their watch with it more will definitely add value. 

Another thing I’m very fascinated by is what they can do with the augmented reality glasses.

The first generation will likely be simple and streamlined, but maybe only do a couple of things well. But since they’re Apple, if their glasses don’t look dorky and they do two things really well, people are going to think they’re awesome. 

If their ecosystem is potentially Apple’s greatest strength, what do you think is their great weakness? 

Honestly, I think their greatest weakness is Siri. The future is in voice commands, and Apple are seriously behind with that. Siri is holding them back. 

If you want to get to the stage where you don’t need to see a screen, and just interface with your technology by talking to it, you need to get your voice assistant on point.

Siri is the type of thing where they need to pretty much fundamentally destroy it, and build a new AI from the ground up. I know there’s a lot of branding by Siri, but I think it’s possible that they rename it. Siri doesn’t have a good reputation right now, but I don’t know whether Apple will bite the bullet and remarket their voice assistant under a new name. 

Which actually ties into another key problem with Apple, they get too caught up in themselves. Apple is known for “Always doing it best” but there’s a bit of hubris that comes with that. 

They have a tendency to come out with a new product and act like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and you can’t help but roll your eyes and say, “come on, Samsung has been doing this for years!”

I think in the past, this hubris has led to slow progress in terms of innovation. But, 2019 was a great year and it seems like they’re back on track as the Apple we know.

We’ll just have to see what the future holds. Speaking of which, where do you think technology will be in 50 years?

I’ll tell you one thing for sure, I don’t want to have any type of implants in my body. I know that’s probably going to be a thing in 50 years, but I don’t want it.

But in 50 years? 50 years is a long time. Technology tends to make jumps every four or five years, so that’s like 10 generations of leaps in technology.

Okay, let’s shorten the time frame. In 10 years, where do you think things will be?

Well, I think by 2030, smart glasses will be the thing. I think there will still be a need for phones but I think more people will rely on things like a smartwatch or glasses. 

What about the technology industry? Do you see the same big players dominating the market? Would you see room for someone to kind of come in and disrupt the industry?

The person with the potential to be the biggest disrupter is Elon Musk. I’m not saying he’s going to but, if he really wanted to, he could buy a phone company and implement whatever technologies that he wanted. 

That said, I think the biggest disruptor from the silicon processor side is Apple and their ARM chip architecture. It’s already happening right now. Intel is not the same today as it was yesterday.

In the future, you could even see Apple licensing their chip for other companies to start using. If it’s that powerful and if it’s that power-efficient, why not? Sure, Apple can hold onto it for five years or so and keep that competitive advantage. But down the line? I truly think the Apple brand has a lot of places to grow. 

In 10 years’ time, I also think Apple will have cemented themselves as a massive player in the audio industry. 

They’re already a sleeping giant. Think about AirPods, they’re a revolutionary product, whether or not you like how they look. Even the HomePod is great. It’s limited at the moment because of Siri, but the sound quality is amazing. There’s a real presence to it.

Interesting! And finally, while we’re talking about futuristic technology, if you could bring one piece of fictional technology into reality, what would you choose?

Flying cars!  Some people might say teleportation, but I don’t trust that. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like. But flying cars? I’m 100% behind flying cars. 

Brian, thanks so much for speaking with us today. We really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge with us, and I’m sure our community will too.

My pleasure. It’s been awesome chatting with you too, hopefully we’ll talk again soon. Have a great day! 

What do you think?

What about you, dear reader? Do you agree or disagree with anything Tong had to say? Where do you see technology in 10 years’ time? 

Let us know in the comments below!