A friend of mine just called and he's wanting to purchase a laptop from Best Buy.
It's been a while since I've shopped for one new, but the best thing I could tell him was to look for something with at least a dual-core 2.0GHz, and that I prefer AMD over Intel.
As far as brands, I told him to not even look at anything that said Acer, Toshiba, Gateway or eMachine. I said that I was on both sides of the fence with HP and Dell (unless they had an XPS up there), and that I would recommend Sony or ASUS. This is based on my personal experience owning or working on the above brands.
I thought I'd see what the general consensus of the forum was. He can spend up to $1000, but less is better. He will use it only for very basic surfing and office work.