Word processors and spreadsheets are a lot easier to manage on a computer with a full-sized keyboard and mouse, but presentations are almost ideal for a tablet – especially a quick and powerful one like the iPad Air. Microsoft PowerPoint for the iPad is a pleasure to use, being fast and responsive, well-adapted to a touch interface, and generally in the same league with Apple's Keynote – though Keynote outclasses PowerPoint in terms of features and flexibility on Apple's tablet.
While the app itself is free, you'll need an £80 per year subscription to Office 365 to get all the power of PowerPoint for iPad, and actually be able to edit presentations as opposed to just viewing them.
PowerPoint, like the other Office for iPad apps, offers a reduced version of the desktop PowerPoint feature set. The most annoying omission is the ability to crop pictures. You can resize pictures on the iPad app, but you can't crop them, so be sure to install a photo editor like the freeware Snapseed on your iPad before going on the road with PowerPoint. The iPad version of PowerPoint lets you perform all the basic actions such as creating a new slideshow, rearranging slides, and creating and changing transitions. You can select a theme for a new slideshow, but, oddly, you can't replace the theme of an existing one.
Transitions only apply to a complete slide, not to specific elements in a slide, but you get easy access to each transition's options from the toolbar. You can't import a video into a slide – only a table, picture, shape, or text box. Keynote for iOS doesn't have either restriction – and neither does the desktop version of PowerPoint. The virtual keyboard – normally an annoyance compared to a physical keyboard – may actually make you a better presenter by forcing you to use fewer words because it's inconvenient to type more, and the best presentations use the fewest words.
Better with lasers
Presentation tools include the usual pen and highlighter, plus a laser pointer tool that switches on when you press and hold on a slide. The laser pointer is a glowing red dot that follows your fingertip as you move it around the slide, so to anyone watching the presentation via a projector, it looks as if you're aiming a real laser pointer at the screen.
You can open a whiteboard to add notes or comments while presenting. As you'd expect, it's easy to present on the iPad itself, swiping each slide to get to the next. You can use AirPlay to present on a larger display, but you'll have to set it up in the iPad's settings, not directly from PowerPoint.
PowerPoint for iPad more closely resembles PowerPoint 2013 for Windows than PowerPoint 2011 for OS X, and that means it doesn't have one of the OS X version's most spectacular features: A 3D display of the layers in a slide so you can manoeuvre them forward or backward easily. It would probably be overkill to have a feature like this on an iPad, but once you've used it on a Mac, you'll wish you had it everywhere.
If you're an Office veteran, you won't regret using PowerPoint to create and show slides on an iPad. There's nothing wrong with it, but in competing against Keynote, it's competing against one of the greatest graphics apps ever written.
Not only is Keynote great, but it's also cheap. Keynote is available free with all new iOS devices, and costs only £7 for old ones, while PowerPoint requires a pricey Office 365 subscription if you want to actually edit presentations. If you bought Office 365 for Word or Excel, you won't be disappointed in PowerPoint for iPad. But if you're only in the market for a presentation app, nothing tops Keynote.