There is no conspiracy behind the iPhone SE - it's what the fans wished for, and what the critics love to hate. It's always been this way with Apple - polarized opinions versus massive sales.
Like it or not, Apple embraced its past and listened to its fans. One-third of all iPhone users chose to stick with the 4" models either for the compact form factor, or the hefty prices of the newer generation. But those people needed to be brought up to speed so Apple and the developers can eventually move on from the older hardware.
The iPhone SE is an iPhone like any other iPhone. It has top-notch hardware, all the latest camera capabilities, and runs on the latest iOS with everything but the 3D Touch gestures. The only thing that puts us off is the old selfie camera.
If you are still here with us, then you probably don't need much convincing for getting the iPhone SE. It wasn't born to compete with others, it was made purely for the fans of the 4" iPhones, and allows them to continue their iOS journey.
It's already too late to compare the iPhone SE to the 5th generation iPhones, as all of those models are discontinued. But there is the 4.7" iPhone 6, which costs about the same, and ups the screen size. There is also the more expensive iPhone 6s with a 5MP selfie camera, a faster Touch ID 2.0, and 3D (force) Touch screen. The Special Edition was made exactly for the people, who didn't like the 6th generation, but would still like to have a great camera.
Sony's Xperia Z5 Compact is a powerful Android smartphone, compact enough with its 4.6" 720p screen. The Z5 Compact is waterproof, beautifully designed, and offers great imaging capabilities thanks to the 23MP main snapper. It has a bigger battery with fast charging and doubles the base storage. Oh, and it's cheaper.
We'd also like to mention the 5" Xiaomi Mi 5 which you can get for about the same cash. It's one of the best Android flagships right now with stunning design, excellent performance, great camera quality, and amazing battery life.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are still relevant, with great performance, pretty dual-glass designs, and lovely Super AMOLED screens. The Galaxy S6 is cheaper while the edge model costs the same as an iPhone SE. They are bigger, right, but can be used with the Gear VR if you are into the VR worlds already.
The fans got what they wanted - an updated iPhone 5s. Apple got what it wanted - depleted stocks, millions waiting to get the SE model. Like it or not, the company got it right once again, and there is little to dwell on - the iPhone SE may not be perfect, but it is pretty awesome in Apple kind of way. It's also everything that it says on the tin - big on the inside, and small on the outside.