Apple iOS 4.2.1 review: Apple iOS 4.2.1

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

3.5 stars 2 user reviews
Review Date:
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The Good Speeds up older iPhones; brings multitasking to the iPad; Find My iPhone feature is now free.

The Bad Game Center fails to thrill; AirPlay and AirPrint features will be useless for most people.

The Bottom Line Apple's iOS 4.2.1 update is well worth downloading. It brings multitasking to the iPad and sorts out some of the iPhone 3G's speed troubles. Best of all is the fact that it's free.

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Apple's released version 4.2.1 of its iOS mobile operating system. The update will particularly appeal to iPad users, since it adds features like multitasking, which  iPhone users have been enjoying since the release of iOS 4.1 . If you're an iPhone or  iPod touch user, you'll still find the update offers a few handy new features, especially if you have an older iPhone that's become sluggish after botched updates in the past.

Apple is calling the update 4.2 on its website, but the actual number of this update is 4.2.1. It's available for free.

iPad grows up

We could forgive the iPhone and iPod touch's lack of multitasking capability prior to the iOS 4.1 update, since their small size meant that we were never going to get any real work done on them anyway. But we hated having to re-open apps every time we wanted to switch tasks on our iPad, especially since it was flogged as an alternative to a laptop.

The 4.2.1 update on the iPad has come as a welcome relief then. But it really enables app-swapping rather than true multitasking, since, although apps can run at the same time, most of them suspend their operation when not in immediate use. You can still perform a limited range of tasks in the background, though, such as playing music in Spotify or uploading files in Dropbox. 

Despite its limitations, having this multitasking feature makes it much easier to get stuff done on the iPad, since, when you go back to an app, everything is just as you left it. You can check a Web page while you write a text message, for example, or interrupt a game while you check your emails. 

In our tests, this multitasking capability didn't make the iPad sluggish, and it's easy to access the list of open apps -- you just double click the home button. You can also close apps from this list, but you don't usually need to. Since the apps are pretty much in suspended animation when they're not being used, you don't have to worry about them eating up battery life or memory. But the exceptions to the rule, in our experience, are sat-nav apps, like that from TomTom. They work in the background, spewing out audible driving instructions and sucking up GPS juice, which can really drain your battery.

Lock, lock, locking on heaven's door

Following the 4.2.1 update, the button on the side of the iPad that was dedicated to locking the screen orientation now acts as a mute button. (Previously, you held down the volume key to mute the device.) To lock the screen's orientation in either portrait or landscape mode, you now have to access a screen-lock icon in the list of open apps.

We always liked being able to quickly lock the iPad's screen orientation, since it's a device that's perfect for bedtime reading or surfing the Web on the sofa. The update, however, makes the iPad's buttons act more like those on the iPhone and iPod touch, so you may welcome the change if you're used to using those gadgets.

Other new iPad features will be familiar if you've already used an iPhone running iOS 4.1. Among such features is the ability to sort icons on the home page into folders.

The iPad's email capability has also been updated. You can now use an integrated inbox, which lets you display all of your new emails from multiple accounts in one place. There's also now support for threaded conversations, which group emails on the same topic together so they don't clog up your inbox.

Gaming lightweight

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