Cute and pretty are not lower than hot, they are higher. A guy who calls you hot all the time just wants to get in your pants. A guy who thinks you are cute and pretty generally finds you attractive and probably has more respect for you.
It could go either way. If I think she's attractive but I don't want to make the friendship awkward I'll tell her that certain features are cute. At the same time, if I'm not attracted to her ill say certain features are cute when I'm being nice, making sure they don't feel that I'm hitting on them. Best way to find out is to flirt back a little and see their response, if your interested.
I can't really speak for anybody else, but if it was me then it'd be a pretty good sign that I was interested in you. I actually think I'd be more likely to use a term like 'cute' if I was interested in a girl rather than 'hot' or whatever.
Also, whenever I'm fixated on somebody enough to even notice that they have cute hands or something equally as minor as that it definitely means I'm interested in them. :)
Possibly. My boyfriend always takes my hand in his and says my hands are really small and its cute. I am a bit of a goofball sometimes and my boyfriend will say, "You are so cute" or "You're adorable". So they may be interested in you, but this isn't enough information to go by. Just as an example my boyfriend before we started dating would compliment me all the time. He noticed when I colored my hair or I wore something new. I would keep an eye out for those signs. Good luck. :)