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On my previous phone (sorry, I didn't set it up myself, so I can't give any more details than "some kind of Android") I was able to pull down the notifications by swiping down from the center of the screen (or anywhere really). On my new Sony Xperia running Android 5.1, the same can only be accomplished by swiping down from the very top of the screen, which is quite a stretch to make.

Is there a way to change this? I couldn't find anything in the settings.

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    Could you clarify more? In that previous phone, were you able to pull down notification drawer from the center of the screen if only you were on home screen or from any app? You're asking for gesture support. Android natively doesn't have any settings for such gestures. Your OEM of previous phone possibly added that feature in that phone. Which particular Xperia device are you using? // Custom launchers can easily provide gesture but they work only on home screen mostly. If you want a global gesture, you may need root access. – Firelord Sep 15 '15 at 21:11
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If you are using the stock launcher, chances are there aren't settings for that. I know that with a custom launcher like Nova Launcher, there are gestures that you can set up to do what you are looking for.

Nova Launcher on Google Play

Nova Launcher Prime on Google Play

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    just for further information: you need the paid version of nova launcher to access the real gesture settings. – benjamin Sep 15 '15 at 16:07

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