My KDE 3.5 is not flashy at all - it's as ugly as sin
This is actually by choice as I try to disable any distractions.
Starting with KDE 4 tradition to name every program Ksomething has been dropped (although, come on, this is not a good reason not to use great software
). New additions to KDE desktop include programs named Dragon Player (minimalistic video player), Dolphin (file manager), Okular (document viewer), Gwenview (picture viewer) and others.
You can certainly use Gnome or XFCE apps while running KDE (as well as the other way round) - all you need is appropriate libraries installed. Although may I suggest trying KDE native apps - who knows, you might actually like them
With regards to battery use probably the best way to find out is to run it. KDE setups aren't that much 'heavier' than Gnome (if at all) - mostly it depends on you and your distro's defaults, anyway.