What to look for in a laptop

To illustrate, take these two examples, at polar ends of the laptop spectrum.
Heavyweight Multimedia Powerhouse{mosimage}Example one is a high spec machine from Hewlett Packard , the Pavilion media entertainment PC.  Sleek finish, 17" widescreen, massive video card, two big hard drives, loads of RAM, speedy modern processor, full size keyboard with number pad, Windows XP, and a plentiful supply of extra features, toys and connectivity to keep any nerd, home or business user satisfied.  It even works as a TV, and comes with its own antenna and remote control.

This machine can do pretty much anything: it can run Office, it can connect to the Internet, do video calling, play games (which is the most demanding theing a computer can do nowadays).  On the downside, it is very big, pretty heavy, and not hugely portable.  It is a desktop replacement, rather than a carry-it-with-you solution.  It also, at time of purchase, came with a hefty, if entirely understandable, pricetag. (You would likely pay over €2,000 for a top notch machine like this.)
Lightweight Ultra-portable Innovation

{mosimage}Example two is the mini laptop from Asus, the Eee PC.  Extremely lightweight and compact, it weighs just one kilogram, has a keyboard about 85% of normal size, a 7" screen, speakers, webcam, 3 USB ports, WIFI.  It has no moving parts other than a fan and is very easy to carry.  It runs a flavour of Linux, the open source operating system, and comes with open source office, email, antivirus and internet programs already installed.  It's little processor is not the speediest in today's world, but for common office/email/internet tasks, it is more than adequate.  It also comes with a slot for memory cards, which means that a) you can plug in the memory from your digital camera to view your photos, but also b) you can effectively expand the storage capacity of the machine, who's internal hard drive is only 4GB.  This is fine for common use and operation, but would fill up quickly if you want to put a load of music on it.  It's operating system is also remarkably intuitive, far more so than Windows.  Of course, if you insist, it will run Windows XP.

So in answer to the question, the Asus Eee PC, which retails at about €300 in Ireland, but is available for about €240 in England, covers all of the basic requirements of a laptop, and does it very, very well.

So it comes back down to the first question.  What do you want to be able to do with it?  And, do you need a laptop at all?  Pound for pound, a desktop will out perform a laptop every time.  Do you really need the portability of a laptop, or is it just because it looks cool and they are trendy?

Further reading...

What to look for in a PC