Apple iOS 4.2 Review: Refinement and Enablement

Article Index

Summary and Conclusion

Does iOS 4.2 live up to the hype? For iPad owners, they've been waiting for this ever since the iPhone 4 shipped this summer, so they've had many months to get their hopes up high. Thankfully, Apple has delivered. We wish iPads were given access to iOS 4 earlier than this, but better late than never, as they say. There's also one really important thing to remember about iOS 4.2. It's free for owners of the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Unlike most of the our evaluations here, it's really hard to find fault with something that has been worked on for months and is now being distributed free of charge. We did find the re-purposing of the orientation lock switch (it's now a Mute on/off switch), a bit troubling but that was the only major annoyance.

The real question is this: is the iPad now a better deal with iOS 4.2 in the mix? That's a really, really tough call and here's why. If the features that are on the iPad now, courtesy of iOS 4.2, were on the iPad when it launched in April, our recommendation for the device back then would have been clear-cut and strong. We felt in April that the software was really the only thing holding the iPad back from being one of the most amazing tablets of the year, and now, those issues have been dealt with. Apple even went above and beyond the call of duty by adding AirPlay and AirPrint, two features we never considered from the onset, if you can believe that.

But here's the rub: the iPad will be around a year old in just a few months. Apple has been quite prompt in refreshing the iPhone on a yearly basis, so why would the iPad be any different? There's a better-than-average chance that a next-gen iPad is on-deck for March or April 2011, and with it will likely come an updated display, possibly a camera for video calling, and maybe even more I/O options (like a USB port). The iPad is certainly more attractive now with iOS 4.2, but unless you really, really need a tablet now, you may be better off in the long run to hold off (at this point, anyway) for revision two of the device.

That said, we can't applaud iOS 4.2 enough as a standalone update. It functions smoothly on the iPad and adds a wealth of features. It really makes iPad owners feel like they're getting a new device, particularly if they invest in an AirPlay-certified streaming device and an AirPrint-certified printer. There's less of an impact for iPod touch and iPhone users, who already had access to multi-tasking and App Folders, but the addition of Game Center and the Safari improvements definitely benefit the whole group of iDevices. If you haven't downloaded updated yet, your iPad is sorely missing out.

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