I bought a laptop last spring and ended up getting a low end one for $250ish. Since I only wanted it for basic stuff (internet, office apps, etc), any hardware would work but I wanted a nice screen. It turns out no one makes a laptop with a nice screen unless you want to pay for top of the line hardware too. So deciding between a ~$1000+ laptop with a nice screen and a ~$250 laptop with a typical screen, I chose the cheap option and it's been fine. It does run Windows 8, and although it's usable I find the UI to be pretty clunky using it with a trackpad/keyboard. I could see how a touchscreen might make it a little better if you choose to get Windows 8. I would second the suggestion to go with Windows 7 though - if I used my laptop more often I would downgrade (maybe not after I try 8.1, but from what I've read it hasn't fixed any of the things I think suck about windows
As far as laptop recommendations, I found these guys last spring and they seem to do pretty good laptop reviews:
Laptops and netbooks rated | TechRadar
If you're not picky, I'd just watch or subscribe to a tech deal site (bensbargains.net or whatever, not groupon or living social) and wait for a good deal to pop up.