6 Questions

6 Questions with Brian Tong

by Chris Morris

The popular CNET host talks about the intersection of tech and travel, and the rise of AI.

08 Min Read Time

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For a gadget-obsessed nation like ours, it helps to have a guide who can introduce us to the devices that are worth our time and money and steer us clear of the products that aren’t quite ready or are really terrible.

Brian Tong does just that with a sense of fun that’s made him one of the more popular hosts on CNET, which he’s called home for the past seven years, and a frequent guest on CBS, CNN and VH1.

Part of the cost of keeping up with the fast-moving tech world is frequent travel. Between business and personal trips, Tong is away from home three out of every four weekends and at least part of one week each month.

As host of Marriott Hotel’s “Future Stay” video series, Tong recently explored the Charlotte Marriott City Center, a newly renovated hotel that serves as a flagship for innovation.

When we caught up with Tong, he was stepping off a plane and onto a train, enjoying an Auntie Anne’s pretzel for breakfast but eager to offer his thoughts on the tech world.

What trends are you seeing as you’re on the road? Is there real innovation happening in the travel industry?

I think things like using your phone as a room key and not having to check in are a big deal. Lots of people don’t want to be bothered with those little inconveniences. Our phone is our life. People use their phone as a social connection, and having your phone be the middleman makes it really easy to get to your room and relax.

What’s the must-have tech you always take with you when you travel?

The number one thing I have to have is my Bose QC-35 headphones. They are, hands down, the best travel headphones you’ll ever find. They’ve got noise cancelling. They’re extremely comfortable. I never thought headphones were worth £250, but I am perfectly happy to spend it on these. I also watch movies and read a lot of comics on my iPad Pro. When you want to consume media and entertainment, you can’t beat that thing.

I also carry a DJI Pro Stabilizer. It’s basically a steady camera gimbal that you can put your phone on. The shots are amazing. And it fits in my bag, so I’m going to take that all the time. I also carry a Kindle to read books. And depending on the length of the trip, I will sometimes bring my PlayStation 4 with me, as well.

What’s capturing your attention these days in the broader technology world?

The whole home-assistant AI, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. It’s huge. We’ve seen it on our phones and used it to some extent, but when you’re talking about home automation such as turning on the lights, setting the thermostat or listening to music, it’s a lot different. It’s very natural, and it’s only getting better. A lot of the time you see tech when it first comes out, and its potential is really apparent. This is one of those circumstances. I mean, I even like it as an alarm clock. Even something as stupid as not looking at your phone to set an alarm is just so convenient.

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum: what tech do you think is overrated these days or not living up to the hype?

I’d say smart watches. I’ve got one, but after wearing it for a week or two, I realised that while it was useful, it doesn’t really change how I do things. I mean, fitness bands are doing quite well because they have a very specific use. They are very targeted, and you find yourself wondering, “Why doesn’t a smart watch do the same thing?” It does, of course, but it does so much else, too. And you don’t want to scuff up your really nice watch when you’re working out.

I also think virtual reality isn’t living up to the hype in terms of people adopting it. But virtual reality is something you have to experience to understand — and not everyone is willing to do that. It’s a real luxury item, and the cost is very high. I’m excited about virtual reality, but you can’t take that with you everywhere yet. And from a day-to-day perspective, how does that change your life?

You recently spent some time at the new Marriott in Charlotte. Tell me about your experience there.

I had no idea what to expect. It was definitely not like a hotel I had been to before — and after a day or two there, I wondered, “Why isn’t it like this everywhere else?” When you walk in, there’s not an actual front desk. There are people with Surface tablets who just walk up to you. And when you walk around the lobby, it’s a huge open area.

The rooms are all upgraded, too. The TV was a 55-incher — and that was the standard room. And the food was on point. I felt like if I were a local, I would hang out here just because of how good the food was at the restaurant. It wasn’t generic. It was locally sourced stuff. Fresh ingredients and farm to table done really well.

You’re a card-carrying road warrior. What have been a few of your favourite cities? What places do you recommend people check out when they ask you?

I think a gem that people underestimate is Portland. It’s an amazing city. The food is remarkable. It’s very green, and there are no taxes! Portland has this unique vibe that makes it special. The whole Oregon area has always been one of my favourite places to go.

The other place I go at least once a year is Hawaii. My mum was born and raised  there. I’m driven to most of where I go to by food culture because that tells me about the people and the area. Hawaii is this mishmash of Polynesian and Asian. I go there because of the food. Yes, the beaches and weather are great, but it’s mostly the food.