Yeah, the thinkpad design hasn't really changed since they came out. I was a little surprised when I saw that they still had the rubber mouse nub in the middle of the keyboard.
The only other laptop manufacturer I have experience with is HP, but I don't know about the quality of their lower end laptops. If you are looking for a good design, I suggest checking out their Pavilion line of notebooks.
Here is one that I saw a decent review for: http://www.shopping.hp.com/en_US/home-office/-/products/Laptops/HP-Pavilion/A1J23AV?HP-Pavilion-g6t-1d00-Notebook-PC