I'm the same point, deciding for a dodger for my boat, so very interested in this thread. I have no experience with hard dodger before, but know very well what I DON'T want on a soft one. First, I wouldn't go for a hard, as this will certaily change the look, and don't know how to remove it on a daily basis to help illumination, to dry things out, to vent, etc ... On my previous ones, I thinkw they had a good watertight, for sprays and eventual waves. Weak points were where the traveller line enter the dodger, but never the zippers. During rain, water collected on deck eventually find its way, but that was because the deck shape where dodger was attached on; I had one with its front side attached through a "spagetti track" very watertight, and other connected using fasteners, what I do not recommend, specially if your deck has a flat shape, with little water escape. Sumbrella lasts 3-5 years, when looses the watertight on pannel junction, eventually dripping. Windows get foggy earlier, and replacement is the only alternative. I found cleaning them very often a bad practice, as it remove the sealants and scratch the windows. I never had problems with zippers, considering they are oversized making ease to open even after salt deposits. Make sure the sewing line are also UV protected, to avoid redoing the work frequently.
What I found of major importance, is the frame. Didn't like alluminum, and stailess steal is the only way to go. All my dodgers were mounted with a single arm attached to the deck, so the support was shared with the canvas itself. What a mistake ! My kids (and myself) never get educated enough to not hang on it, ripping the canvas eventually. Next dodger will have two arms landed to deck, making for a sturd structure and not depending on the canvas. It will have a handhold on it's back (for when you're standing in the cockpit) and handholds on its side, to help when you need to leave the cockpit. The front window will have zippers so I can open it, allowng breeze flow, the overall width must enclose the entire working area (wiches, stoppers, etc) so we can use it overnight to hold wet cloths and towels. Colour is important, and should find a compromise betwen light, cooling, and resistant to stain (Sunbrella Navy Blue seems the right one). We also made plenty use of velcro, to connect canvas pannel, if protect against UV they proved reliable and strong.
I heard about Makrolon replacing the soft windows, but seems somehow difficult to be removed on a daily basis, if you stow the dodger daily, like I do. But the look is very nice, and don't fade overtime. You can check more pictures of its owner at Sign in to SeaKnots - SeaKnots
. Here goes some pictures I'm collecting from magazines to help me out with ideas too.
Sorry for the disconnected summary, but it was more a brainstorm to me and hope the Pro's coleagues of this community will add more important things that we could both benefit from ....