This unbelievable Xiaomi camera phone feature will make you regret your iPhone

Xiaomi 12
(Image credit: Future)

People often call iPhones the best camera phones out there. I don't necessarily agree, which is why the Galaxy S22 Ultra tops our rankings, but Apple's mobiles are definitely in the conversation. However, Xiaomi phones have one photography feature that's so cool, I can't stop using it.

It's called Sky, and it's an editing mode that you use for pictures you've already taken. Basically, the phone uses AI to work out what the sky looks like in the picture - and then it lets you choose between loads of different alternative skies that it edits in.

Some of these are general daytime ones, such as clear skies, different cloud formations and different weather effects - there are also twilight skies, with different sunsets and sunrises, and night-time skies with stars, cosmic bodies, the aurora borealis and more.

Not only does the phone change the sky in the image, but it also provides tweaks to the rest of the snap to fit with these edits - for example, if you're adding in an orange sunrise, the snap will be given a warm color hue to fit.

This feature is hard to explain, and when I'm telling people about it, I usually just have to show them - so let's do that right now.

The edit

Here's a picture I recently took on the Xiaomi 12:

(Image credit: Future)

Admittedly it's not a great picture - I was trying to capture the blossom on the tree, but the brightness of the sky blew out the tree too harshly for it to look clear.

But it's a useful way to show the Sky mode - it has lots of sky area, but also a close subject (the tree), a medium background (the houses) as well as lots of gaps in the tree that could trip up a lesser AI tool.

Let's look at some samples

I love this feature

Sometimes camera phones have in-depth features for serious photographers. However, lots of us love to take pictures, but aren't interested in spending ages fiddling with things like the ISO, aperture and shutter speed. 

Much of the time, taking a great photo isn't just about the hardware, but simply being in the right place at the right time - which is hard to do for most people who aren't professional photographers.

Lots of TechRadar's staff are based in photogenic locations like India, Scandinavia or the US. But if you're a phone tester based in an English metropolis, you rarely have the opportunity to take incredible photos.

Tools like this Xiaomi Sky mode are great for people who want to keep up a busy 'Gram presence without dedicating their whole lives to photography.

Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Plus, it's just fun to spin between the different modes and see how they look. These pictures are dramatic, stark, sometimes silly and sometimes stupid - but given how different they look from my normal snaps, it's exciting just to jump between them and try them out.

Ever since I first tried this feature on the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, I've loved using it in phones from the company, and miss it when we test devices from other brands.

This isn't the only mode that offers the ability to take incredible pictures - I've really enjoyed Samsung's Portrait mode, Oppo's microscope mode and Xiaomi's telemacro mode for taking pictures you wouldn't be able to on other devices. 

Simply put, when photography modes are exclusive to certain brands, it makes them more interesting to test out, than if you can just run them on any old device. I recently tested the iPhone 13 Pro, and was shocked by how few fun or useful camera app modes there were.

Does it look fake?

Some of you may have found the above camera samples really impressive. Others are probably shaking their heads, muttering "no, they look terrible - so fake!".

For some of the pictures, I'd agree with you, and I didn't even include some of the goofier-looking ones (there's no way you're seeing the Milky Way that clearly!). Sure, they're mostly silly fun, and now and then they look bad.

But when the Sky mode works, it really works. How can we tell? Well, because the original camera sample we shared above - that's not the original image.

This is the actual original:

(Image credit: Future)

Yep, we pulled an ole' switcheroo. The first picture shared was actually captured using the Sunny sky mode, and we never really see skies that bright in the UK.

You had no reason to doubt me, and I'm sorry for lying to you, but I think it proves my point - some of the edited images are passable for genuine photographs.

This sunny mode dramatically brightens the shot, both the sky and the details in the trees and buildings. But if you pull it up in full screen compared to the real shot, you can see that the AI has made some mistakes - the ends of twigs have been cropped out, especially around the left building on the background trees, and the TV aerial on the central building has gone.

But even I only noticed this when putting both images on full screen next to each other, and wouldn't have been able to tell if I didn't know the twigs were meant to be there. If you're just sharing these snaps on social media, no-one's going to notice.

I'm not sure if the authenticity of the pictures is the most important thing if I have fun playing around with the mode anyway, but I'm constantly surprised by how genuine the snaps too. It's a fun - or scary - indication of how smart AI already is.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.