Summary: (Details below)- This is not a cheap-walmart-knockoff versus upscale-private-toystore toy comparison. These two products came out very much in the same league (darn near identical). Magnatiles have rivets and better-placed reinforcement lines but not stronger magnets. Picasso tiles are about 1% larger and heaver, but the Picasso Tile magnets may be 1% stronger (yep, you read that right). I'd call that a wash. If we are super conservative and say the magnets are identical, Magnatiles could have have a tiny weight advantage in a truly massive build. (As in, for every extra 100 square tiles in a build, Picasso tiles have the added weight equivalent of a single tile). Magnatiles could have a very, very tiny stability advantage when tiles are placed perpendicular to each other. Again, it would take hundreds of tiles before this would be significant. Hours of testing failed to show that Magnatiles were more stable in builds around 100 pieces.
Conclusion: All building materials have their limits, and learning these limits is an important part of the building experience. This teaches kids to work with the material in question and helps them to figure out how to reinforce their structures. That said, no one wants to purchase something that is going to be more frustration than fun. If Magnatiles really outshined Picasso Tiles in terms of stability, I was ready to pay the premium price, but as hard as I tried to show a clear or measurable advantage for the Magnatiles currently being manufactured, I couldn't. I can't imagine a child being able to discern any building difference between these sets. I'm happy in the knowledge that I can use the few hundred dollars I saved to double (!!) our collection (because honestly, the number of tiles you have and the child's skills seems to be the biggest limiting factor here). The rivets alone, to me, were not worth the major price difference. We have about 400 Picasso tiles plus trains and windows played with daily and they are all still in perfect condition. No complaints, no regrets and no more review-reading on this one for me. Continue if you want the full details.
Background: After buying Picasso tiles two years ago, I have always wondered if I was missing out on a much better product in the Magnatiles brand. I read a *lot* of reviews, and for every one claiming the only difference was the rivets, there would be another saying that there was a huge difference in the magnet strength. I have seen videos comparing Magnatiles from ten years ago to current ones reflecting that the newer Magnatiles are significantly weaker (bummer), so wondered if this fact was responsible for the divergent reviews. Picasso tiles have also made some design changes in the last few years, so my old product wouldn't give a fair comparison. For this reason, I decided to purchase current products to compare.
Goal- I went into the experiment fully expecting Magnatiles to come out ahead; I just wanted to see if it was by a wide enough margin to justify the price. Essentially, because I am working within a budget, I was expecting to weigh the value of having double the tiles against stronger (?) magnets. I wanted the most tiles and the best "build" for the buck. I went into it knowing that I would rather have more tiles than rivets.
Price- It goes without saying that Magnatiles are more expensive and have plenty of history and brand loyalty. The 100-piece set is priced at about $130. Sales bring it down to $109 often, and $100 ($1 per tile) is considered great deal. I did a little better at a national bookstore chain, using the kid's club coupon and my member discount to purchase the magnatiles for around 90 cents per tile. Picasso tiles have a 100-piece set priced at $100. They are usually listed at $70, and I purchase them when they drop to a sale price of $55-65. I average 60 cents per tile. Magnatiles are approximately twice the price for anyone who needs to purchase within 90 days (because the Picasso tiles go on sale much more regularly).
Build quality-It should be clear from other reviews that Magnatiles have an edge here, and build differences are the primary differences between these products, but your target use will have to determine if the difference is worth the cost. In both brands, the tiles consist of magnets sandwiched between two plastic plates. One side has pegs and the other has holes inside, so the two sides snap together and are also glued. Magnatiles has added a metal rivet in the corners of their pieces as a second layer of protection. Obviously, swallowing magnets would be the primary concern here. Two years ago, I purchased 200 Picasso tiles (directly from the company). One had magnets that weren't properly oriented and another hadn't been glued at all (someone missed that one), so it popped open and magnets flew everywhere. That one was replaced. That said, we have never had any that were actually glued come open or loose. None have cracked. The new sets I got this year had none of these problems (I checked every tile for correct magnet orientation or loose sides). From my experience, I'd say that they have improved their quality control. I am not at all worried about them coming apart, but could see this being a consideration. If you run a business where there are masses of young children who play with these unsupervised year after year, maybe pay more for the rivets just in case? Or don't give them to kids under 3? From a cost standpoint, you would have to lose a lot of tiles to make these as expensive as the other brand.
I expected the Magnatiles to be made of thicker plastic (many reviews say they are thicker and more sturdy). Imagine my surprise when I was wrong. Even with the metal rivets in the corners, Magnatiles are a hair lighter than Picasso tiles (see Compatibility section). Magnatiles weigh an average of 26.69 grams per tile. Picasso tiles weigh an average of 27.52 grams per tile (a 1.03% difference). If you take the other factors into consideration, I believe that the plastic is identical in composition and thickness.
From a physics standpoint, the reinforcing lines inside the Magnatiles (which criss-cross through the middle of the tile) are more logically arranged to distribute forces throughout the tile and prevent breakage. The newer Picasso Tile design does not seem that it would absorb as much impact. (On the flipside, all the kids I talked to preferred the look of the Picasso tile design because the lines were not as noticeable). I decided not to break any tiles to test this, but a toddler ran back and forth across the largest (weakest) of them (yikes!) and we had no cracks. I wouldn't recommend walking/jumping on either set. In my situation, these are used indoors on carpet and are put away when playtime is over, so they are plenty sturdy for typical use.
Some reviewers of both brands have noted a slightly uneven seam along the side of the occasional tile. I found that there was some of this going on, a little more in the Magnatiles brand, surprisingly enough.
Some reviews state the magnets rattled around more in one brand than the other. We found the sound made by the shaking tile to be identical. This a subjective observation, but those observing were doing so brand-blind. **Update- we followed this up by having the computer compare the sounds from the video. They were even, and this comparison is no longer subjective.**
Compatibility- Are the two brands compatible? Yes! They are nearly identical and people mix the sets all the time. Are they *exactly* the same size? I'm going to go against the grain here and tell you that they are not, although they are extremely close. The Picasso tiles are a hair larger in every direction. For example, a flat stack of 25 Magnatiles is approximately the same height as a stack of 24 Picasso tiles. I believe that it is this tiny ~1% size difference that makes the Picasso tiles slightly heavier overall (they are 1.03% heaver per tile). Basically, if you use 971 square Picasso tiles in one build and 971 square Magnatiles in another, your Picasso tiles build will weigh the equivalent of 10 extra tiles. I'd call that very, very insignificant.
Now, when it comes to very large structures, the more uniform your pieces, the better your build. If the tiles are assembled randomly, the difference would be small, but if you did a whole row of Magnatiles next to a whole row of Picasso tiles, the difference could be a little problematic. For most people this difference is also insignificant, but it does have more impact than the weight difference and is still a consideration. Not mixing the sets for this reason is getting kind of nitpicky, I know, but I'm just throwing that out there. I started with the cheaper sets, so had no compelling reason to try to mix the more expensive ones in once I was done.
Magnetic strength- Ah, the part we have all been waiting for. I'm going to start by saying that I kept the tiles from each brand stacked in identical piles and worked my way down through the stack, using a new tile for each test. Any time I used paperclips, I used a new paperclip for every test and placed the "used" paperclip away from the paperclip pile. If you want to conduct your own tests, this is important; don't reuse the same objects over and over.
The magnets are identical in appearance, size and shape. My first tests were designed to measure the side-to-side strength (as if you placed two tiles flat and directly next to each other) of the magnets. The Picasso tile magnets were able to attract test object A at an average distance of .95 mm from the edge of the tile. The Magnatiles averaged .75 mm (so the Picasso tiles were able to pull something from farther away). Test object B resulted in Picasso tiles having a range of .55 mm and Magnatiles .5 mm. Basically, in the most conservative measure, the magnets in Picasso tiles are every bit as strong as the magnets in the Magnatiles (and may even be 1.1.-1.27% stronger). Now, because the Picasso tiles are slightly larger, it is possible that the size difference is on edges outside the magnets (I do not have the tools to be able to measure something this small very well). It is possible that this means that the magnets in the Magnatiles are slightly closer together when the tiles are in place side-to-side (too small of a difference for me to measure) yielding a tiny stability advantage. An alternate possibility is that the magnatiles magnets are placed further into the tile (by less than my measurable amount of 1 mm). If that is the case, the magnets are identical. No matter how you look at it, with differences that small, this test is a wash. I conducted several build-fail side-to-side tests with the two sets of tiles and they all failed at exactly the same time and under the same load. Tie. (I'll put up a video of just one example of the tests run-you'll notice I didn't swap the tiles out in that video as it was a preliminary one, but I repeated the test with new sets of tiles and the video accurately reflects the results. I ran about 20 different tests but have cited only a few specific examples here).
Perpendicular strength. Because the Picasso tile edges are about 1% larger, we know that there is (1% or less) more plastic (therefore space) between the magnets when a tile is placed perpendicular to another tile in a build. If you don't have tiles, you might want to know that the tile does not sit on top of one it is perpendicular to; instead, it is just outside the tile with the corner edges touching. It is my impression that, from a magnetic standpoint, this is the only area in which Magnatiles may have a very, very slight edge. In the only test that showed any difference at all (a triangle attached parallel to the ground along the seam of two other squares), Magnatiles were able to take about 1 gram more (sitting on the tip of the triangle) before failing. (1 gram, so think a plastic cube the size of a pea). Most would consider this a tie in the real world since this is well under the mass of a single tile. There were no build differences using actual tiles, even in large builds; they failed at the same point every time. In a truly massive build, this would confer a very small advantage, but for all intents and purposes, this was a real-world wash.
Summary on magnets: Let's say as the most conservative estimate that the magnets are identical from the same factory in China (even though the Picasso tile magnets measured 1% stronger, which seemed to negate the fact that the magnets may be slightly farther apart in building). As previously mentioned, the Picasso tiles *may* have a tiny bit more plastic between them on the edges, do have a tiny bit more plastic between the magnets placed perpendicular to each other, and are slightly heavier overall. In a very large structure these are disadvantages, albeit tiny ones. I conducted additional large build tests, having the subjective impression that Magnatiles might fail about a split-second after the Picasso Tiles, but every time I found a difference, I went through and made sure the tiles were in exactly the same position (the tiles can sit slightly inside/outside of the tile beneath the one it is "connected" to). When I took the time to ensure that every tile was in the exact same position, I could never find the difference that I kept thinking I would find and both sets of tiles failed at the same point on every build test.
Play- The kids love to build with these & make window murals. They also make a makeshift light table (don't have one) to play on top of-so neat! They toss a clear plastic bin over a bright light, wrap a dark blanket around the four sides, leaving only the top exposed, and voila-instant free light table. They have recently been experimenting with car ramps made partly out of Picasso tiles because the magnets "grab"/slow down/slightly divert their (metal) cars.
***Requests - Picasso Tiles, if you read reviews, I strongly believe you should be offering rectangles (the shape of two small squares side by side) as your primary building shape. The best building "blocks" (wooden blocks, Lego, real-world bricks, etc.) are those that can be offset when building vertically. Building walls with tall columns of blocks next to each other is inherently unstable because the weight of each piece serves to hold the pieces directly under it but not to secure the structure as a whole. The way it is now, the taller a structure gets, the harder it is for the magnets along the sides of the columns to handle keeping the entire column in place. These "column seams" are the weak points of every almost every single build. Rectangular pieces would be much better because every piece could be offset from the one below it. The builds would get MUCH better. This small change could 100% blow every competitor out of the water. You're welcome. Feel free give me a few free boxes :). I would also love to see transparent (no color) Picasso tiles. (Not as important: Options for 1x4 pieces like would be nice for roofs and such, but not necessary. Have some other thoughts too, but the first recommendation is the one I feel most strongly about)***
All the tiles are still going strong. Recently my kids had friends over and they filled all their creations with glow sticks. That was a new one. I filled in some numbers and added some pics/videos from my earlier tests. I also had a major laughing moment when Picasso Tiles recently reached out to send a box of some windows/doors as a thank you for spending the time to do a full comparison (the comment above was meant to be facetious). Anyway, they score an upvote from me for checking reviews and having good customer service.