When Will Smith opened YouTube Rewind in December, the company’s attempt to capture highlights from the past year, he had two wishes: He wanted Fortnite and he wanted Marques Brownlee.
Marques Brownlee talks tech to more than 8 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. He’s the quintessential YouTube success story; Brownlee started posting reviews at 15 and now he has one of the biggest consumer tech audiences on the site.
Brownlee, 25, wasn’t the first to review the latest gadgets on YouTube, but he has found success by examining each product for the everyday consumer. He’ll go line-by-line comparing the latest Samsung phones to explain why the less expensive model is just an all-around better deal. Phone reviews focus on the top questions viewers might have — What’s the battery life? How’s the camera? How’s the day-to-day experience?
Brownlee operates out of a dedicated studio in Kearny, N.J., with three full-time staffers, posting roughly two videos a week on new phones, laptops, and tablets.
The Post talked to Brownlee in March about his channel, electric cars and whether we’ll hit a ceiling on the features in our handheld devices. The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length.
Batteries can only get so much better. Screens can only get so much better. Phones can only get so much bigger. Do you think there’s a ceiling on how much better hardware will get?
The absolute latest time I heard that was a couple of months ago and then we got five folding phones in the next two months, so I’m never too worried that hardware will suddenly become peak or stale.
And, that’s actually the best part of this job. A lot of YouTubers have to be the most interesting part of their channel. I don’t have to; the pressure’s not on me to be super interesting. The pressure’s on those tech companies and those manufacturers to come up with good use-cases and fun ideas and noteworthy things that I end up sharing.
So, whenever it feels like it’s starting to get slow, it’s not really me feeling the pressure. It’s tech companies feeling that pressure, too.
How long does it take you to use a product before you know what to say in a review?
For me, it depends on what that device is. I’ve reviewed so many smartphones in the last eight, ten years that for me: I get a smartphone. I get the specs. And, I can hold it. And, I can use it for probably an hour or two and kind of know where this is going to fall.
Of course, I still use it. I review it over the couple of days or weeks. I’m taking notes and everything, but, generally, pretty quickly, I can tell where it’s going to fall.
You were one of the first tech reviewers on YouTube to go to press events with journalists for new tech products. What’s the same and what’s different when you compare a YouTube creator and a journalist?
First of all, I think it’s pretty awesome that tech companies (even the bigger ones like Apple, Samsung and Google, etc.) are actually inviting YouTubers alongside journalists to cover and share their newest products. I think that’s really, really exciting. ...
You asked what’s the difference between a journalist and a tech YouTuber. Honestly, just the medium. If you’re writing something and taking photos versus making videos, that’s probably the biggest difference between us. Other than that, we’re kind of delivering the same thing.
It sounds like you’re also saying YouTube can give you a bit more of a voice. You can be a consumer yourself?
True. A lot of journalists don’t want to conflate their own opinions with those of their employers. ... With a YouTube video, you can be as personal or as journalistic as you want. You can fall anywhere on that spectrum.
How do you handle your relationship with these companies? It seems like a balancing act between providing critical reviews and working with these companies to test the latest products.
I think that relationship, however you want to phrase it, is mainly just a trust in honesty. I’m not changing any of my opinions or what I’m saying about a product in a video based on my relationship with the company. ... When they release a product, my job is to be honest and deliver what people want to see and what people need to hear.
Are you ever concerned about the social implications for some of the technology coming out? Do you have any tech fears?
I guess I lean toward being an optimist, as far as improving tech being good for people, but that’s not to say there are not potential downsides, and you have to stay aware of those downsides. But I think both regulation and vigilant consumers like us have done a pretty good job calling out when companies do bad things with their tech, or when they aren’t making the best product that they can.
What is exciting to you right now?
Electric cars, because it’s just one of those big — that seems like a huge industry waiting to flip over like an iceberg. There are so many huge, old car companies that are realizing the future that they have to adapt before, and they haven’t really had to adapt in a really long time to anything this big.
Will cars become a bigger part of your channel as these vehicles become super computers?
I think it’s going to be a much bigger part, especially now. I have a video upcoming about the state of electric cars. But, I think I first got into cars because of an electric car — it was the Tesla.
And then, just the fact that they are such high-tech products. There’s automated driving. There’s battery technology, all the other stuff that goes into it. As much as I believe that electric cars are the future of cars, I think that will be reflected in how many electric car videos you end up seeing in the next couple of years.
By that, you mean you want to make more videos about electric cars so the viewer is more informed and ready to buy one?
What do you think needs to happen for electric cars to exist in the mind of the average consumer?
It’s two things. It’s the price; it has to be reasonable, if not better, and the product has to be better. And, I think that comes down to just being able to go long distances without charging. Performance is already kind of being proven. ... It’s just a matter of, is this practical and reasonable and actually better than a gas car? Once that comes down in price, I think it’s kind of a no-brainer.
Read more coverage from The Post: