Seeing as i just recently bought a laptop, i can tell you that the make of the laptop is not as important as the specs. Laptops have come along way as compared to a few years ago and i can confidently say that any brand you buy will be good. By 'any brand' i mean the popular ones. These include, but not limited to, HP, Toshiba, Dell, Acer, LG, Sony, Fujitsu Siemens... All the above brands, in my opinion, make some pretty decent laptops. If you are more concerned with looks rather than performance, then i think laptops from HP, Sony and LG will suite your likings.
I personally would stay clear from Macs because of their incompatibility with most software and because they're relatively very expensive.
Here are some things you need to look for when choosing a laptop and are ordered in importance
CPU: I believe a Core 2 Duo processor is now the standard in most laptops and is you're best choice. Go for speeds of 1.8GHz or more and if available, get one with 4MB cache (you can ask the sales man about this).
RAM: Seeing as most laptops today come with Windows Vista, 2GB or more RAM is the 'sweet spot' for vista which should be enough to run everyday applications without degrade in performance. You will, however, find that alot of laptops come with only 1GB of RAM, which in my opinion, is not enough for Vista as just running a few applications will cause a hit on computer performance. However, you can always buy another 1GB of RAM and install it if you fancy a specific laptop but has 1GB RAM.
Graphics Card: Alot of people don't foresee the importance of a graphics card, especially in a laptop because it is un-upgradable. It basically will handle any image processing that needs to be done and choosing a decent graphics card can be tricky. There are mainly two types of graphics cards: integrated and dedicated. Integrated relies on the CPU for processing images and as you can imagine, that will degrade performance. While it is suitable for simple tasks, like web browsing, listening to music, word processing etc... your computer will take a big hit if you try and run games. Also, integrated graphics cards often take from the system memory (RAM) and hence lower your available RAM to run applications. Dedicated graphics cards, on the other hand, have their own CPU for handling image processing and hence take the load of the main CPU. One other thing to mention is shared vs dedicated video memory (often shorted VRAM). Shared memory will take from the system RAM while dedicated memory is memory that is separate from the system RAM. Last but not least, is the type of graphics card. There are two main players in the market for graphics cards, which are nVidia and ATi. You can't really say one is better than the other, but you can be sure that more games are compatible with nVidia, but not too much to make you choose one over the other. To sum up, an nVidia 8600M GT with 256MB dedicated VRAM or an ATi HD 2600 with 265MB dedicated VRAM is a very good graphics card for a laptop. These, on average, are twice as fast as nVidia 8400GS and ATi 2400.
Hard disk: Choosing a big hard disk will ultimately depend on your needs. Keep in mind that choosing one with lower capacity will not be slower than one with higher capacity (give the same model). Another point to consider is the hard disk's spidle speed, aka RPM (rounds per minute). This is how fast the hard disk spins and the majority of laptops hard disks have speeds 4200/5400/7200 RPM. Lower RPM means slower access speed but longer battery life and vice versa.
Most other features in a laptop are for personal preference, like a web-cam, remote control etc...
In case you're wondering, i bought a Toshiba A200-204 with these specs: Intel C2D 2.2 with 4MB cache, 1GB RAM (upgraded to 3GB, which is pretty sweet!), 200GB HDD, ATi HD 2600 graphics card. This laptop was very reasonable priced and so far so good
Another laptop which has very similar specs is the Dell Inspiron 1520-20 which is also similarly priced.
Hope that was informative