I have had PC's for as long as I can remember - mainly laptops and mainly 13" or less. Have gone from dell latitudes to expensive sony vaio's and back again. I can honestly say this is the best machine I've ever used, the SSD makes it lightning quick and can handle most things I throw at it, even photo editing. I also have a 2011 Macbook Pro from work but the Air seems way faster due to the SSD.
The build is pretty bomb proof, sat on it with the screen open and not a mark. You can also hook it up to a large monitor 27" thunderbolt display (or other) and it handles it very easily. The speed for such a small machine is amazing.
If you can afford the extra, I would by-pass the iPad - with the 11" Air there are very few advantages to an iPad unless you like to play games. The Air is just as portable and you don't have to struggle typing.