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Road testing the Samsung Galaxy S5’s Ultra Power Saving Mode

The Ultra Power Saving Mode on the Samsung Galaxy S5 claims it can keep your phone running for 12.5 days on a single charge by shutting down all non-essential features. What does that mean when you actually use the phone, though? I spent an entire weekend with the phone exclusively on this extreme battery saving mode to see what it's really like in practice.

Remember your old flip phone that just made phone calls? You could text, you could connect a Bluetooth headset, and – if you were really lucky – you had access to a WAP browser that was almost useable for a handful of websites. It didn't do much, but the battery lasted for days. Today you've got a crazy powerful Android phone, but you count your blessings if it gets you through 10 hours of use. Samsung pitches the Ultra Power Saving Mode on the Galaxy S5 as the ultimate compromise, where you sacrifice all of the things that make your phone a fantastically intelligent communication and entertainment device in exchange for more hours of battery life.

It sounds perfect for when you're travelling and need to be able to make or receive calls but can't just power your phone off, but after a weekend of using it as the default mode on the S5 it turns out this is a useful tool to have around.

Ultra Power Saving Mode removes your home screen, your settings, your camera, and strips the vibrantly colourful OS down to a black-and-white interface with six apps. You still have Samsung's swipey keyboard and voice controls when you want to send text messages, and you can choose to still have access to your social networks as long as your app is on the list. For Facebook and Google+, this means the stock apps and nothing else. The apps are still black-and-white, but just about everything inside them still works. Messaging is disabled in each app, and you won't get notifications unless you specifically go looking for them, but the apps are otherwise intact.

Curiously, you still have access to Google Now as well. Voice control, song search, and nearly everything else about that app is intact. For everything else you would want to do, you've got Chrome.

Aside from being monochrome, Chrome is exactly the same in this mode as it is everywhere else. You don't lose the ability to stream music, watch videos, or anything else. While obviously doing these things will drain your battery, the options are there if you need them. If you rely heavily on apps to get you through the day, you'll find that good old websites are still there to help you limp along. Email, social networking, even Google Voice if you're the type to rely on SMS replacement services, all have web apps that are usable in a pinch. If your goal is to conserve battery life, this is a perfectly reasonable compromise.

So how far does this battery saving technique actually get you? After 65 hours of using this phone for all of my emails, tweets, phone calls, and an amusing video or two that seemed even more absurd in black and white, I was down to 38 per cent. I could have easily gone two more days at the same usage rate before needing to find a power outlet.

Given my usage, the 12.5 days of standby claimed by Samsung seems like it is a reasonably accurate figure. Like any other phone, every time you wake the display starts the countdown to when you need to plug in, and while Samsung's display was able to consume less power for many of the things I threw at it, there's a good chance that staring at any of the apps where all of the pixels were lit wasn't actually saving much power at all.

Choosing when to use this mode is an interesting challenge. While you can do what I did and just leave it on for a few days, there's a good chance that this isn't a viable strategy for your day to day usage. Samsung pitches this as something you'd turn on when you are down to your last few per cent of battery to make sure you still have a phone to use at the end of the night, and that seems reasonable. The important thing is to try not to revert back to the regular power mode if you're in a pinch, especially if your phone has been in this deep sleep mode for a while. As soon as the S5 is back to normal, it'll sync everything and restore your phone completely. In my case, that consumed two whole per cent of remaining battery in as many minutes.

While this is unlikely to be something you'll rely on with any sort of regularity, it's not a bad idea to set it up and make sure it is ready to go for when you're in the middle of a battery emergency. Then again, if you're a big enough geek to make sure you have your Ultra Power Saving Mode set up just the way you want it, you're probably savvy enough to just disable app syncing or disable your data connection entirely to save battery life. Most of what makes this mode useful is the knowledge that the phone is just barely consuming battery life when it is not being used. Samsung has included a one button switch so you don't have to think about it, which at the end of the day is a great thing to have.

For more on Samsung's new flagship handset, see our full Galaxy S5 review. And if you're thinking of moving up from one of its predecessors, check out our piece on whether you should upgrade from your Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4 to the Galaxy S5.