Malaria microscopy in sub-Saharan Africa is often restricted by access to light microscopes. To address this gap, a novel portable inverted monocular microscope, the Newton Nm1, was designed and is now commercially available. Its diagnostic performance was assessed in a blinded-slide trial at ×1000 (oil) of Giemsa-stained thick blood films against a conventional microscope as undertaken by four Ugandan Ministry of Health technicians. With the Newton Nm1, diagnostic performance was: sensitivity 93·5% (95% confidence interval (CI) 78·6–99·2%), specificity 100·0% (95% CI 82·4–100·0%), positive predictive value 100·0% (95% CI 88·1–100·0%) and negative predictive value 90·5% (95% CI 69·6–98·8%). Discordance was due to a systematic error underestimating parasitaemia by ~45%; when counting Plasmodium parasites against 200 white blood cells, blood films with low parasitaemia (i.e. <100 μL−1 of blood) could be overlooked and misclassified. By contrast, specificity was excellent with no false positives encountered. Whilst proven useful, especially in resource-poor environments, it is still unclear how we can ensure the uptake of the Newton Nm1 within sub-Saharan Africa.